- Associated Press - Thursday, January 12, 2017

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Two Rhode Island state officials are resigning over the troubled rollout of a new public benefits system and the state is suspending further payment to contractor Deloitte Consulting.

Democratic Gov. Gina Raimondo announced Thursday she has accepted the resignations of Department of Human Services Director Melba Depena Affigne and Chief Digital Officer Thom Guertin.

A $364 million computer system that launched in September has been beset by technical problems, causing thousands of delays in distributing food stamp benefits.

Extending hours at social services field offices last year helped reduce long lines, but the problems have persisted with monthlong waits for people seeking eligibility for food stamps.

“I was at the end of my rope, and my frustration isn’t nearly as deep or as relevant as the frustration of our clients who deserve and will receive better customer service,” Raimondo said, describing the benefit system’s clients as the state’s most vulnerable residents.

“Clearly the rollout of the new system hasn’t gone the way it needs too,” she said. “It’s been disappointing, it’s been frustrating and it’s been unacceptable.”

Raimondo said she is withholding nearly $15 million in payments to Deloitte as the state reviews the vendor’s work and assesses the stability of the new computer system that has had “too many bugs and glitches.” Representatives for the New York-based company didn’t return calls for comment.

“The magnitude of the challenges we’ve seen over the past few months is simply unacceptable,” Raimondo said. She said the system installed about three decades ago needed an upgrade. She has repeatedly said that such overhauls are often difficult and that the system will end up better than it was before. She said on Thursday it has been a problem of both leadership and technology.

State lawmakers have held oversight hearings, federal officials have demanded fixes and the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state over the faulty rollout of the Unified Health Infrastructure Project, known as UHIP, which includes the food stamp program. Launched at a cost of $80 million to the state, the new system is mostly funded with federal money.

Both of the officials who are stepping down plan to temporarily remain in their jobs to help with the transition, said Raimondo, who didn’t rule out the possibility of them moving to other state jobs. A chief operating officer for the Raimondo administration, Eric Beane, will serve as acting human services director. The state’s chief information officer, Chris Antonellis, is becoming acting director of information technology.

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