Year End Reflections

2021: Year End Reflections

Looking back at 2021, the Rhode Island Department of Human Services (DHS) demonstrated the power of working together to create meaningful change. Despite an ongoing pandemic, DHS staff worked around the clock to achieve some of the Department’s greatest accomplishments to date.


From a legislative perspective, 2021 was one of the most successful years for the Department. For the first time in more than 30 years, families receiving Rhode Island Works (RIW) benefits received a 30 percent benefits increase. The updated rate was issued to Rhode Island households by September 2021 – only a short time after it was signed into law by Governor McKee. Other RIW updates included extending a yearly clothing allowance to all children in RIW households and introducing earned income disregard. 

In addition to this needed relief for many families in our State, the Department was also working to distribute stabilization grants to Child Care providers amidst a worker shortage that is being exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Aid to Child Care providers came in the form of direct grants totaling $18.6 million during the first phase of the CRRSA stabilization grants (supporting 94% of total providers statewide) and another $5 million administered with LISC from the Child Care Provider Relief Fund. As of the close of 2021, the Office of Child Care also awarded $20.8 million in ARPA ReInvigorate Child Care Stabilization Grants to 559 providers.

Together, with the Governor and the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS), DHS is optimistic about what the future holds for our customers and community partners. There is always more we can do to ensure individuals and families have the supports they need to thrive. As we welcome this New Year, it’s important to remember in 2021 that DHS:  

  • Developed and launched a streamlined DHS website with the customer in mind. New features included an all-inclusive Apply Now page; an Overview page of all major DHS programs and services; a revamped Child Care page reflecting the growing significance of Child Care to Rhode Island families; and so much more.
  • Continued to issue Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits timely to over 80,000 households each month throughout 2021. Families also reliably and consistently received extra emergency SNAP -- which brought families to the maximum allotment for their household size -- totaling more than $100 million in benefits issued from April 2021 to December 2021. Recognizing we have more work to do with respect to timeliness, to date, we identified and implemented operational strategies to improve.
  • Worked with federal partners to offer P-EBT and Summer P-EBT benefits to children from SNAP households and in Child Care settings who may have missed meals due to COVID-19.
  • Benefits were issued, in some cases retroactively, from October 2020 through August 2021.
  • Implemented a SNAP text message service called “HealthyRhode | DHS Alerts” so families could receive timely notifications about their case. The service is another tool for customers to help ensure continuity of benefits when forms or other materials are due.
HealthyRhode | DHS Alerts graphic
  • Launched workgroups, trainings and initiatives centered on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) with a focus on race equity to further build a compassionate, caring, and knowledgeable workforce that will also benefit the diverse populations we serve. In 2021, 601 DHS staff members participated in our Multicultural Competency Training Series. In addition, we launched Courageous Conversation Circles (CCC) creating a safe space for employees to have courageous conversations about race and other challenging topics, over 50 staff members participated in these conversations.
  • The Office of Child Support Services collected a total of $93,355,201.60. Of this total amount of child support collected in Rhode Island during 2021, $75,113,444.96 (more than 80%) was distributed directly to families for a child's benefit.
  • In 2021, the Office of Child Support Services implemented the many changes brought about by the enactment of the Rhode Island Uniform Parentage Act. This law allows for equal treatment in the establishment of parentage for same-sex couples; recognizes De Facto parentage; and for the first time in the State's history, provides for parentage that arises from children born as the result of surrogacy agreements and assisted reproduction.
  • Disability Determination Services (DDS) received funding for several 100% federally funded positions by the Social Security Administration (SSA). DDS renewed their focus on accuracy in claims processing and is now ranked #1 in the Boston/New England Region, and nationally RI is now ranked #3 with a 98.1% accuracy rate.
  • The Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS) /Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) - Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS) provided a total of 987 Pre-ETS services this past school year and 235 Pre-ETS virtual services. Through collaborations with Community Rehabilitation Providers, ORS has introduced Pre-ETS services to well over 5,000 students through Virtual Career Chats and Middle School programming which is available to students as young as 14 years old, services that continue to take place in the community.
  • Identified several legislative opportunities and garnered the support of the Governor, Executive Office of Health and Human Services, legislative leaders and community partners that will build on the Department’s momentum for the 2022 legislative season. 
  • Amid the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan in 2021, DHS collaborated with Dorcas International of Rhode Island, the Catholic Diocese of Providence and the Rhode Island Foundation to provide support for Afghan evacuees who arrived in Rhode Island. The collaboration between the Governor's Office, State agencies, community partners, and others aided resettlement efforts, and helped facilitate the coordination of needed support and services.
  • Identified several legislative opportunities and garnered the support of the Governor, Executive Office of Health and Human Services, legislative leaders and community partners that will build on the Department’s momentum for the 2022 legislative season.
DHS, ORS staff at Fountain

These accomplishments would not be possible without our dedicated staff, community partners, and legislators; local and congressional and State leaders who have continued to support Rhode Island families. Recognizing the ongoing impact of COVID-19, our hearts go out to all those who lost loved ones and faced financial hurdles in 2021, and we want our customers to know that DHS won’t rest until every Rhode Islander has the same opportunities to succeed now and in the future.  

2020: Year End Reflections


That's the one word that immediately comes to mind when we think of the work DHS has accomplished in 2020 during a devastating, life-altering pandemic.

A child being cared for at Children's Friend, in Rhode Island, takes the temperature of a nearby adult.

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.

We 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. We couldn’t think of a better Governor, cabinet colleagues, community partners and staff to have done this work with.

We look forward to accomplishing even more with everyone in 2021!

2019: Year in Review

Group cutting a ceremonial ribbon

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.
A 2019 graduation picture of some of Rhode Island's Project Search graduates.
  • 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.