Toronto

Cost of problem-plagued computer that administers welfare soars to $294 million

The cost of the Social Assistance Management System that administers welfare and disability payments to 900,000 Ontario residents has soared to $294 million.

NDP, Conservatives blame Liberals for 'ongoing failure' of Social Assistance Management System

Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne came under fire from opposing parties on Wednesday after it was revealed that the cost of a problem-plagued computer that administers welfare has increased to $294 million. (Marta Iwanek/Canadian Press) (Marta Iwanek/Canadian Press)
The cost of the Social Assistance Management System that administers welfare and disability payments to 900,000 Ontario residents has soared to $294 million.

Social Assistance Minister Helena Jacek said another $23 million was added after the government implemented recommendations from a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, which called for more training for frontline staff who work with recipients.

The additional costs include $15.7 million to hire more IT staff at the ministry and to train social assistance case workers who complained the SAMS program was too complicated and too time consuming for them to use.

"They have really done a wonderful job and we've been listening to them, and they're finding the situation stable, they can rely on it," said Jacek.

"They're being relieved of some of the manual tasks they had to do in terms of calculation of benefits and so on."

The original tab for the problem-plagued computer system developed by IBM was $242 million, but it kept growing as problems arose with cheques sent to clients.

The province also had to give municipalities an additional $10 million to cover overtime pay for staff who were dealing with upset recipients $20 million in overpayments last December

At one point last December, just a month after it went online, SAMS queued up $20 million in overpayments for people living on social assistance.

Case workers more comfortable with system

More than seven million cheques have now been issued properly,and the case workers in municipalities are much more comfortable with the system, added Jacek.

"Through the last several months there's been additional training and materials to help people feel a lot more confident," she said. "We've ensured a lot more support is available for the front line workers."

The province moved to SAMS after the auditor general criticized the previous computer system used for social assistance payments, which Jacek said had cost $745 million and didn't do nearly as much as the new system.

"The ongoing support and maintenance of SAMS will be $55 million, about $5 million less than the old system," she said. "We're seeing a stable system that, at the end of the day, is going to do what it's supposed to do."

The Progressive Conservatives said it would take 10 years before there's any real savings from SAMS' lower operating costs because the project is $50 million over budget.

"The government's SAMS implementation has been an absolute mess," said PC critic Randy Petttapiece. "It's 19 months behind scheduled and has already racked up costs of nearly $300 million."

The New Democrats blamed Liberal negligence and mismanagement for the cost over runs and problems with the SAMS system.

"The blame for the ongoing failure of the SAMS system rests squarely on the shoulders of (Premier) Kathleen Wynne and her government," said NDP critic Monique Taylor. "Unfortunately, Ontarians are stuck paying the price."