WOONSOCKET – Sen. Melissa Murray, a Democrat representing District 24 in Woonsocket and North Smithfield, will join affected residents at a community gathering on Wednesday 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,” noted a press release on the event
The event is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 5, at 3 p.m. outside the Woonsocket Department of Labor and Training One Stop Center at 219 Pond St. in 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 according to a release fro Murray.
“Recipients lost benefits when renewals for SNAP and RI Works benefits restarted if they were unable to complete the renewal process,” noted the release. “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 press from the senator noted that 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 are expected to 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.