Woonsocket event planned tomorrow highlighting

 

need to reopen DHS offices

 

Lack of in-person services preventing Rhode Islanders from getting critical services, including SNAP, cash assistance and child care

 

STATE HOUSE – Sen. Melissa A. Murray and affected residents will hold a community gathering tomorrow to call for restoration of in-person benefits assistance services at the Department of Human Services that were eliminated at the start of the pandemic. The lack of access to assistance is a barrier preventing some people from getting and keeping benefits — SNAP, cash assistance and child care —  that are desperately needed during a difficult time.

The event is scheduled tomorrow, Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 3 p.m. outside the Woonsocket Department of Labor and Training One Stop Center at 219 Pond St., Woonsocket. The Woonsocket DHS office recently moved to the same building, although its office remains closed to the public.

DHS offices statewide closed at the onset of the COVID pandemic and have remained closed even as other public venues and some state agencies have re-opened. In September, when enhanced unemployment benefits ended, more people were in need of SNAP and cash assistance. Recipients lost benefits when renewals for SNAP and RI Works benefits restarted if they were unable to complete the renewal process.  In addition, in order for parents of young children to return to work, they need rapid access to child care assistance. Applicants and recipients who have problems getting or keeping benefits are directed to contact the DHS call center, where there are hours-long wait times to speak with a DHS representative who may not even be able to resolve the presenting problem.

DHS instructs people to use its online application system, but many do not have internet service or devices or may not have the digital skills to navigate the application process.  Unlike the online application process for Medicaid, there is no network of community assistance providers to help complete the online application and trouble-shoot problems.

In Woonsocket, the local DHS and DLT offices now share an address. But while residents can make an appointment to see a staff person at DLT, there is a “closed” sign for DHS, with some materials available in the lobby, but no assistance from DHS staff.  The drop box where people can submit applications and required documents is located in the parking lot, with no direction about how and why to use it.  Similar lack of information and lack of in-person assistance pervades the other DHS office locations.

At the community gathering, parents, service providers, and policy makers will provide details about the harm being caused to residents because of the failure of DHS to re-open offices and minimally provide adequate information and in-person assistance at those spaces, as well as the failure to adequately staff the call center and speedily resolve problems with getting or keeping benefits.  Their purpose is to ask DHS to immediately rectify these problems in Woonsocket and at all DHS sites around the state.

 

 

Free at home COVID tests kits will be available to order Wednesday, January 19th. The White House says they'll be available nationwide and are limited to four kits per household. Tests are expected to be shipped within seven-to-12 days of ordering.        Vice President Harris has a message after being asked about what's next in the administration's push for voting rights legislation. Harris said "We keep fighting," noting they're in it for the long haul. Efforts to pass new laws on voting rights have been stalled in the Senate.        The go-head is being given for the case against the suspect in a deadly Wisconsin Christmas parade incident. A court commissioner made that ruling Friday for the case against Darrell Brooks. He faces nearly 80 charges for what happened back in November.        A case regarding a high school football coach and on-field prayers is headed to the high court. On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Joseph Kennedy's argument saying prayers taking place after games should be held in the same respect as the First Amendment. Kennedy was let go from his job in 2015 for refusing to stop prayers after football games.       Saturday Night Live is back on the air tomorrow night. In the show's first episode of the year, "West Side Story" and new Golden Globe winning actress Ariana Debose will take up hosting duties. The Jack Antonoff-led band Bleachers will fill the musical-guest slot.        A Los Angeles woman is thought to have made NHL History. During Thursday night's L.A. Kings game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, athletic trainer Aisha Visram sat behind the bench. The Professional Hockey Athletic Trainers Society says it's believed that Visram is the first woman to ever do that.