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RI attorney appointed special master to oversee UHIP

On Thursday, federal judge William E. Smith appointed attorney Deming Sherman to serve as Special Master to oversee Rhode Island’s troubled public benefits program. Sherman previously served as Chairman of the Litigation Department at the law firm Locke Lord, where he retired from two years ago.

The appointment comes after the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice sued the state in December of last year over its failure to provide food stamps to thousands of Rhode Islanders after it transitioned to a new computer system. Last month, thousands of unprocessed benefits applications through the Unified Health Infrastructure Project were discovered on top of the 4,000 the state had already reported. Governor Gina Raimondo directed the state to withhold millions in payment to Deloitte Consulting, the contractor of the computer system, over the technical problems and delays in distribution.

As Special Master, Sherman will be tasked with ensuring UHIP “timely processes SNAP applications” and “provides accurate and complete monthly reports,” according to Judge Smith’s order. Sherman has been given broad subpoena powers for his independent oversight of the program.

Steven Brown, the executive director of the RI ACLU, expressed his frustration over the state’s lack of action on UHIP. “The bottom line is that it’s the state that has the legal obligation to provide food stamps to needy families, provide them on a timely basis, and they can’t point to a third party to blame for it. They still have to be feeding these hungry families,” he said. He also indicated the ACLU’s hope that Sherman will both investigate UHIP’s underlying technological problems, and provide temporary relief to families in need.

Sherman told court reporters after the hearing that he and his team would “discuss an interim solution, and then figure out where we go from there.”

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