PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Hunger is on the rise in Rhode Island, and the problem-plagued launch of a new state computer system is hindering enrollment in the food stamp program, a food bank said in a report released Monday.
The report by the Rhode Island Community Food Bank cites a Census Bureau survey for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It says 6.1 percent of households in the state reported “very low food security,” or hunger, from 2014 to 2016. That’s up from 4.6 percent from 2011 to 2013.
The report says access to food stamps has been blocked and delayed by last year’s launch of the new eligibility system, RI Bridges. The system, also known as the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, or UHIP, has been plagued with problems since the state began using it last year.
The food bank’s CEO, Andrew Schiff, said many new people are visiting their network of food pantries and they’ve said their food stamp benefits were erroneously cut off, reduced or unfairly denied. He said the state needs to work harder to fix UHIP.
“This problem is so big that it has to be solved at the state level,” he said. “The work of the food bank is not going to be able to mitigate the seriousness and the extent of the problems that we’re facing. We will do everything we can to feed everyone who comes to us and turns to a food pantry for help, but in the end these problems have to be solved.”
Food stamp enrollment dropped by more than 12 percent, from more than 169,000 people in July 2016 to about 148,000 in July 2017, according to the report.
State officials said last week that they believe there are more than 7,300 pending applications, more than 4,300 of which are overdue. That’s significantly higher than in September.
U.S. Sens. Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse spoke Monday at the food bank about how proposed cuts in federal spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other benefit programs would hurt Rhode Island residents.
Both Rhode Island Democrats said they’re trying to thwart such cuts and criticized Republicans for working to reduce taxes for the wealthy while people go hungry.
The food bank releases its annual report on hunger to coincide with Thanksgiving week.