Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario Government Knew of Welfare Payment Problems - but Minister Didn't

Newspaper article The Canadian Press

Ontario Government Knew of Welfare Payment Problems - but Minister Didn't

Article excerpt

Auditor details social assistance mess

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TORONTO - Ontario's Liberal government knew there were problems with a new system for disability and welfare payments, but decided to launch it anyway, the province's auditor general said Wednesday.

The minister responsible for the file, however, says, "Nobody told me."

Defects with the Social Assistance Management System became public when the system erroneously queued up $20 million in overpayments last December. The Ministry of Community and Social Services said Wednesday that $382,000 of that was actually paid out.

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk said in her annual report Wednesday that the ministry knew there were problems with SAMS before its launch but rolled it out anyway before it could be properly tested. Minister Helena Jaczek said she only became aware of the issues last December, like the public did.

"Apparently the executive committee assumed the risk was worthwhile and they decided to launch," she said.

The executive committee included the deputy minister and three assistant deputy ministers.

The government is spending an extra $52 million on fixes -- bringing the total cost close to $300 million -- but the auditor general reports that the problems were, and continue to be, much more widespread.

As of October, SAMS had erroneously calculated $89 million in potential overpayments and $51 million in potential underpayments, Lysyk found.

SAMS automatically corrected some of those errors while others were caused by the old system, leaving $35 million, which the government is looking into, Jaczek said.

"We have not established that any payments, either overpayments or underpayments, in that group have actually been made," the minister said.

The auditor listed several examples of erroneous payments.

The system overpaid benefits to a mentally disabled client who did not realize the error, spent the money and didn't have the means to repay it, Lysyk said. Because of the Ministry of Community and Social Services' collection efforts, the bank froze the client's account and a caseworker had to issue cheques by hand. …

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