Ontario welfare workers’ woes with computer system continues

Ontario workers, who have been enduring the chaos caused by a province’s problem-plagued multi-million social assistance computer system, say a much-awaited assessment of the system has been a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The province spent some $240 million on the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS). However, since it went live last Nov. 12, the systems which was supposed to improve the processing and administration of social assistance in Ontario have been creating problems for caseworkers and their clients.

Members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) and the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU) have complained that SAMS has been bugged by one glitch after another. For example, one computer glitch resulted in the overpayment of up to $20 million in government cheques to the welfare and disability recipients. Carrie Poole-Cotnam, chair of CUPE’s social services committee, also said that with SAMS the task of adding a new child to welfare case now takes “over 100 steps” instead of the six step with the older system.

On Wednesday, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP released its interim report on SAMS. OPSEU officials said the report fell short of covering vital system and infrastructure performance issues associated with the system.

“While the language is technical and carefully guarded, it identifies terrible communication throughout the implementation of the $240 million IBM computer,” said Warren Thomas, president of OPSEU, in a statement. “But more importantly, it is clear that the PwC study was not even asked to look into whether SAMS is an appropriate program to improve the delivery of social assistance in Ontario.”

The PwC contract will cost approximately $190,000. A final report is expected to be delivered by PwC by April 30.

An assessment of the overall system and the performance of SAMS is beyond the scope of the study and will not be mentioned even in the final report, according to Thomas. He said the province could have saved taxpayer’s money by listening to the workers’ in the first place.

A spokesperson for Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek said that contents of the report cover the terms of reference set out when PwC was called in, according to a report from the Toronto Star.

The 19-page report notes that the Community and Social Services Ministry “has not been able to fully transition to a business as usual state.”

The report said that “over the last four months the ministry has made progress” on 57 high-priority system issues and defects.

Jaczek said the report provided good advice on how to make sure SAMS “functions well and that the staff are supported.”

She said the rollout of the new system has been “challenging and stressful for the people who use it” but noted that SAMS had four successful pay runs since November.

However, in March, the province had to give $5 million to municipalities that continue to incur expenses due to problems with SAMS. This was in addition to $5 million the provinces committed to municipalities in December.

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Nestor E. Arellano
Nestor E. Arellano
Toronto-based journalist specializing in technology and business news. Blogs and tweets on the latest tech trends and gadgets.

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