Comptroller calls for hearing on food stamp computer contract in wake of problems

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza is calling for a public hearing on a proposed $67.5 million improvement to a state computer system after its rollout resulted in thousands of households temporarily losing their food stamp benefits last month.

If an amended contract for the additional work is approved next week, total payments to Deloitte, the company that built the system, would reach an estimated $288 million — more than double the amount agreed upon in the original contract in 2012, said Patrick Corcoran, policy director for Mendoza’s office.

“The extensions and amendments will cost more than the original award,” Corcoran said Friday. “It’s very alarming.”

Corcoran called it the latest example of a pattern of mismanagement of contracts in various state agencies overseen by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. The Democratic comptroller’s office also has concerns about the quality of Deloitte’s system after more than 40,000 households lost their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps, last month.

Most of those households will have their SNAP benefits restored by the end of Friday, officials with the state Department of Human Services announced Thursday, after a Tribune report on the problem earlier this month.

In a letter to the state’s chief procurement officer Friday, Corcoran credited recent news reports for alerting the comptroller’s office to the “failed rollout that prevented 40,000 households from accessing critical benefit programs and ongoing technological challenges affecting frontline staff.”

The state Department of Healthcare and Family Services, which contracts directly with Deloitte, presented a different total than the comptroller’s office. After the contract amendment of $67.5 million, total project costs will be about $272 million, said spokesman John Hoffman, who noted most of the project costs are paid by the federal government.

“These funds are crucial to modernizing, operating and maintaining the state’s delivery of health and human services,” Hoffman said.

Many caseworkers in the local DHS offices have complained of rampant problems with the new system, including some late Friday afternoon.

But DHS officials have denied the so-called integrated eligibility system has any systemwide glitches and have said system problems have been addressed as they arise.

Instead, officials largely have attributed the problems to poor communication about the new system, which is more efficient in canceling benefits when applicants miss deadlines.

The latest $67.5 million request from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services would pay for more on-site support for caseworkers, software enhancements and other improvements, according to a document outlining the proposed contract amendment.

“The State has developed a significant backlog in pending applications and overdue redeterminations. … The Agency has determined that re-procuring this service and changing vendors would risk destabilizing the system,” the document says, explaining its request to offer the amendment to Deloitte as opposed to another firm.

A Deloitte spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Human Services didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Twitter @GregTrotterTrib

RELATED; State to restore disrupted food stamp benefits for thousands this week »

Food stamp benefits disrupted for thousands as state launches new eligibility system »

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