POLITICS

Ontario Needs To Spend Millions To Fix Troubled Welfare Payment System

05/01/2015 10:50 EDT | Updated 05/01/2016 05:12 EDT
CP
TORONTO - Ontario's minister of community and social services can't say whether the government will have to shell out more money to fix a support payment system that has already cost the province an additional $29 million.

The Social Assistance Management System, which is responsible for welfare and disability support payments, has been plagued by problems since it was implemented in the fall, a government-commissioned report found.

The PricewaterhouseCoopers report said that to implement all 19 recommendations, such as better training for front-line staff and appointing a program manager, the government will need to asses "current and future resource capacity."

The report also recommended a new governance structure, and Minister Helena Jaczek said until that happens she won't know if there will be further costs.

"At the point that we see that integrated transition plan we'll be in a much better position to address the issue of further resources," she said.

The IBM-developed system cost Ontario $242 million, but additional costs — including $10 million in extra payments to municipalities for overtime for staff dealing with the problems — have put the bill around $271 million.

Jaczek said there have been major challenges with the SAMS implementation and she is "disappointed," but payments have gone to the people who need them. The ministry underestimated the impact that SAMS would have on front-line staff and the amount of training they needed, Jaczek said.

Despite the problems the past six pay runs have been successful thanks to the front-line staff, she said.

One point person is needed to take full "responsibility and accountability for the plan moving forward," Jaczek said. But she refused to fault anyone in her ministry for the problems thus far.

"I'm not going to assign blame," she said of the project team. "I'm sure they were doing their best due diligence in the project as a whole."

The union that represents the caseworkers said it urged the ministry to delay the November roll-out. Jaczek said she was "not given that impression" by the technical team.

However, she also said Ontario found — as did other jurisdictions — that the technical staff did not fully understand the affects on the front-line workers.

Progressive Conservative critic Bill Walker said he believes there will be more expenses for SAMS because municipalities don't want to be left holding the bag for extra staffing costs associated with it.

"Now they're going to come out with more enhancements — what's that going to cost us?" he said.

New Democrat Peter Tabuns said it's clear no proper business analysis was done.

"If they were looking for warnings they either didn't look well enough or they ignored what they found," he said.

Since it was released SAMS has been experiencing many issues, notably queuing up $20 million in welfare and disability support overpayments last December.

The review, which cost nearly $200,000, does not address a number of key areas including assessing the system's performance since inception, nor does it provide an opinion on the "functional or technical readiness" of the system.

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