POLITICS

Third-Party Help Wanted To Fix Social Assistance 'Boondoggle'

02/10/2015 11:21 EST | Updated 04/12/2015 05:59 EDT
CP
TORONTO - Ontario is looking for a third-party adviser to help with its problem-plagued rollout of a new system responsible for social assistance payments.

The $240-million Social Assistance Management System erroneously queued up $20 million in welfare and disability support overpayments in December.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents caseworkers, and the opposition parties say others who depend on social assistance got far less than normal or didn't get any payment at all.

Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek has visited disability support and welfare offices and in a letter she sent to workers Tuesday said she heard their concerns and saw first-hand the challenges with the new system.

"I know the implementation thus far has been challenging and I want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to eliminate barriers or problems that may be causing you frustration," she wrote.

OPSEU has launched a court challenge over the system, alleging it has "introduced chaos" into social assistance payments, harming some of Ontario's most vulnerable residents.

As a result of challenges with the new system, the government said it is delaying the implementation of a new employment-related benefit from April to October.

Progressive Conservative critic Bill Walker called SAMS a "boondoggle."

"We've heard all along from the minister ... this is going to be a smooth transition, an easy rollout, then they called it glitches, now they're going to hire an adviser, which is just code for consultant," he said.

"So two flags go off: you're hiring another person, which is going to delay this process even further. The people that are most vulnerable are the ones suffering in this time delay and what's it going to cost us?"

NDP critic Cindy Forster said the government's admission of problems with SAMS is "long-overdue," but the Liberals still won't find immediate solutions.

"Forcing families and staff to wait until the end of April for an unknown company to assess this mess is further proof that the Liberals are out-of-touch with the damage they've caused," she said in a statement.

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