Toronto

Social assistance system fix will cost Ontario, but no one knows how much

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.

Report outlines 19 recommendations, but resource capacity unclear

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 assess "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 the government will have to foot the bill for more 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.

$271-million bill

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 troubled roll-out — 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.

The government is not asking for money back from IBM, who designed the system, said Jaczek, who also refused to fault anyone in her ministry for the problems including inadequate staff training.

"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."

Warnings about roll out

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.

The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, which represents the caseworkers, said they urged the ministry to delay the November roll-out. 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.

Read the full report here.

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