POLITICS

Opposition parties say welfare, disability support payment issues not over

04/02/2015 02:53 EDT | Updated 06/02/2015 05:59 EDT
TORONTO - Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek said Thursday there was an issue this week with Ontario's welfare and disability support payment system, likening the problem to rebooting her BlackBerry — despite saying earlier the payment run was successful.

Jaczek is under fire for a $245-million Social Assistance Management System that has caused numerous problems since its roll-out in November.

After the release of an interim report Wednesday outlining front-line staff complaints about the system, the minister said that cheques had now been successfully issued five times in a row.

But both the Progressive Conservatives and the NDP said they have heard from caseworkers that a glitch in the system meant that some people did not get their cheques as they should have on Wednesday.

"I have not been able to confirm that at all," said Jaczek, who went on to say the system had to be rebooted in the morning, forcing staff to do additional work to ensure information in the system was correct.

"It sort of reminded me of when I have my BlackBerry telling me that there are issues and I need an update," she said. "It's often very inconvenient. I think most of us experience, when we look at websites, sometimes they're down. These are issues that occur."

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said she heard from caseworkers that "untold numbers" of people who needed adjustments to their files, if, for example they became eligible to receive a bus pass, who did not receive their cheques. Those cheques may not arrive until Wednesday, Horwath said.

"It's going to be a sad, sad weekend for these folks," she said. "The minister had the gall to stand up and say she was delighted by how things went yesterday. Well I don't know how many people are affected, but I can tell you the folks that are affected aren't going to be very delighted by this minister."

Progressive Conservative Bill Walker said he too heard from people in the support offices that there were problems with Wednesday's run.

"A small delay to someone who relies on this funding to provide for their family isn't a small anything," he said.

A government-commissioned report on the problem-plagued SAMS is due in a few weeks but will not cover an assessment of the project's performance since inception, or assess the overall system or infrastructure performance of SAMS, nor will it provide an opinion on the "functional or technical readiness" of the system.

Since it was released late last year, SAMS has been experiencing issues, notably queuing up $20 million in welfare and disability support overpayments in December. The government has earmarked an extra $5 million to help with costs associated with SAMS problems such as staff overtime.

The ministry has addressed most of the 57 "priority" issues, and has had to start addressing system issues and defects on a weekly basis, said an interim report released Wednesday.