2020: YEAR END REFLECTIONS
That's the one word that immediately comes to mind when I think of the work DHS has accomplished in 2020 during a devastating, life-altering pandemic.
It wasn't perfect and there's much more to do, but #teamDHS stepped up!
With our lobbies closed and staff working from home or safely distanced at our offices, we:
• Advocated for the families and individuals we serve by submitting more than 20 waivers and asks to the federal government and State leadership. It has led to increased resources such as maximum Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for the last 10 months and two emergency RI Works payments to some of the State's most vulnerable families. It has also allowed us to push out recertifications, be more flexible with interviews, secure telephonic signature functionality and get online purchasing privileges for SNAP recipients.
• Became the first in the nation this past spring to distribute new Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT) benefits to children who receive free or reduced-price meals in school when school is in session, but the kiddos were then learning at home due to COVID-19. The federal government changed eligibility for P-EBT the 2020-2021 school year, but we were able to get these benefits out again for August and September 2020 – one of only 20 States to do so. Retroactive benefits for October, November and December 2020 will be issued by the end of 2021.
• Regulated summer camps, a new responsibility DHS volunteered to do to ensure safe environments for the more than 100 summer camp programs that were approved to serve 19,000 youth.
• Safely reopened child care in Rhode Island to pre-COVID-19 provider numbers with new regulations. We continue to support these mostly small businesses, including paying providers using CCAP Temporary Enhanced COVID-19 rates.
• Continued to improve operations and customer experience with staff suggestions and feedback as well as increase employee trainings and resources. The Department also moved forward with its strategic plan (called DHS Blueprint) and program model innovations. This work has included revamping SNAP outreach, new how-to guides for using the online Customer Portal and two new, needed guiding principles that you can read more about below.
• Eliminated the Category 1 waitlist at the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) and implemented a plan for the Category 2 and 3 waitlists.
I could list more from all of our teams, including the Office of Child Support Services who led the way to get the necessary Parentage Act approved this year. It went into effect on Jan. 1, 2021.
Again, we accomplished all of this during a global health crisis while simultaneously supporting our amazing leader Governor Raimondo and sister agencies, including RI Department of Education (RIDE), RI Department of Health (RIDOH), and the Department of Children, Youth and Familes (DCYF), with critical equity and COVID-19 measures that are positioning Rhode Island to be better than it was before the pandemic.
Proud may be word that immediately comes to mind, but thankful is right on its heels. I couldn’t think of a better Governor, cabinet colleagues, community partners and staff to have done this work with.
I look forward to accomplishing even more with everyone in 2021!
A Message from DHS Director Courtney E. Hawkins regarding DHS Measures for COVID-19
As news about the Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) continues to develop, I want to share with you the steps we are taking at the RI Department of Human Services to prepare and keep you connected to the services and benefits you need.
I want to stress that the health and safety of our customers and employees is the utmost importance at RI DHS. Prevention is essential as this public health emergency continues to evolve.
This is a good opportunity to remind you of our other customer service channels that do not require a visit to our contact center. You can:
- Call us at 1-855-MY-RIDHS (1-855-697-4347) from 8:30am – 4:00pm, Monday through Friday
- Login to your Customer Portal account to access your benefits
- Customer Portal how to guides can be found on the Tech Resources section of this website
We will continue to follow developments with the Coronavirus in Rhode Island with our partners in state government. Our commitment is to keep our customers updated as the situation evolves in the event we need to make any changes to the way we do business in order to appropriately respond to the Coronavirus. Our priority is, and will continue to be, ensuring that Rhode Islanders have access to their public benefits.
Please be sure that you are aware of the following sources of information and are checking back with these sources frequently:
The Rhode Island Department of Health has launched a 24-hour hotline for anyone with questions about the Coronavirus (401-222-8022). Residents can also call 211 after 4:30pm for assistance. I also encourage everyone take preventative actions as recommended by the CDC.
Rhode Islanders are also encouraged to contact the BH Link if you or anyone you know or care about is experiencing a behavioral health care crisis.
2019: Year in Review
As 2019 came to a close, it was important to reflect on the agency’s progress as we begin another year.
Over the last year, the agency continued its priority work aligned with its seven Guiding Principles. DHS started off the year by opening a new regional office in Middletown, improving its delivery of services to Aquidneck Island customers and strengthening the agency’s partnership with Child & Family. DHS ended the year by successfully transferring the Child Care Licensing Unit from DCYF to the DHS Child Care Assistance Program to strengthen and deliver high-quality child care services and better support the early childhood education workforce.
Considerable progress was made with RI Bridges system improvements and lobby operations to support our customers. The agency now has 38% shorter wait times for the DHS Call Center, 92% shorter wait times for recertification interviews via phone, 15% of applications and 32% of all documents are now submitted online. DHS continues to inspire confidence among its customers, represented by a 98% satisfaction rate for the DHS call-in line, and an average score of 4.8 out of 5 (very satisfied).
Additional agency accomplishments over the past year include:
- DHS’ proposed RI Works (RIW) legislation passed to remove the 24-month time clock for RIW families. Starting January 1, 2020, families now have the opportunity to receive 48 months of continuous benefits.
- DHS has maintained progress related to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) timeliness since December 2018, which led to the dismissal of the Gemmell lawsuit.
- The Office of Rehabilitation Services reduced the waitlist for its most significantly disabled (Category 1) customers by 50 percent.
- The Office of Child Support Services continued to assist its walk-in customers from start to finish in 20 minutes. The Office also celebrated 5 years of its Cozy Closet donations for customers.
- The Center for Staff Development and Learning team conducted 2,449 hours of training this year.
- DHS celebrated its inaugural class of adult Project SEARCH interns, who graduated after receiving hands-on lessons from Lifespan’s Rhode Island Hospital employees and Goodwill Industries of RI instructors.
- The Preschool Development grant has the State poised for expanding pre-K, and a new parent-focused early education website was launched.
- DHS worked in partnership with DCYF to tailor communication pathways and application procedures for key populations.
- DHS seeded principles of continuous quality improvement throughout its operations, specifically empowering the supervisory team to lead on developing quality eligibility workers through ongoing observation and coaching.
- DHS initiated the Quality Assurance Oversight Committee.
DHS will build on the progress of the past year to continue to provide high-quality customer service to our customers and improve our systems. In looking ahead, DHS will focus its efforts to:
- Continue to reduce wait times for our customers.
- Debut a shorter, easier to understand DHS application that has 23% fewer pages and 54% less text.
- Pilot family-centered programs to assist RI Works young parents in achieving their employment goals while building confidence to be successful for years to come.
- Work with the Department of Health (DOH) to have cross enrollment strategies for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) services.
- Support strategies by our Community Action Agency partners, such as a mobile LIHEAP intake worker, to increase benefits access.
- Work with our community partners and legislators to increase tiered child care reimbursement rates, an investment that has proven results and contributes to the high-quality education and care of our children.
- Build on the expansion of SNAP E&T to ensure all DHS customers have access to high-quality employment and training opportunities if they need them.
- Continue with the cross agency work to streamline the delivery of LTSS services, including system upgrades for staff and improved communications.
We can only do this critical work because of our dedicated and hard-working staff, along with our community partners, legislators, fellow cabinet leaders, and the Governor. While we should celebrate our progress, we know more work is needed. We share Governor Gina Raimondo’s commitment to help all, reduce poverty and achieve equity.
That is the goal, and like in 2019, we will do it together.