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TORONTO, Ont. – Vulnerable people on social assistance are the victims of the chaotic introduction of a new case management system for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, according to a flood of responses to a survey by the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).
Hundreds of caseworkers have responded anonymously to a survey set up by the union. Frontline workers are raising the alarm about the new computer system and the havoc it has created in workplaces across the province. Workers also fear for the thousands of families and individuals in Ontario who rely on social assistance and face the prospect of a month-end with no payment.
CUPE members recount heartbreaking stories of lives thrown into turmoil by absent, late or incorrect payments, system errors, and the inability to update case plans. At the same time, stress in the workplace is reaching unbearable levels, as workers struggle to navigate a system plagued by system errors and conversion problems.
The Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) is a new case management system launched at Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program earlier this month. Despite many months of delay and province-wide testing, SAMS has been a source of stress and worry to both clients and the workers whose job it is to provide financial assistance to vulnerable Ontarians.
Survey respondents say the new system’s cumbersome and inefficient processes are also creating significant delays, leaving workers unable to provide timely or personal service to clients. Workers also cite dramatic increases in the time spent on data entry and concerns over potential privacy breaches.
“The government’s own figures confirm that more than $220 million has been spent on this lemon of a system,” said Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, Chair of CUPE’s Social Service Workers Coordinating Committee (SSWCC). “At the same time, the Wynne Liberal government is cutting social programs for our province’s most vulnerable citizens. It’s yet another indication of something radically wrong with this government’s priorities.”
John Clarke of the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty spoke in support of both workers and recipients of social assistance:
“The initial implementation of SAMS poses an immediate threat: that people on social assistance will face widespread delays in receiving their meager income. This brings with it the threat of hunger and loss of housing.
“Beyond this, however, the new system moves us away from flexibility and discretion and renders the delivery of income support more ponderous and inflexible and less ready to adapt to the particular needs and situations of those living in poverty.”
CUPE’s survey of its members’ experience of SAMS closed November 26, two weeks after SAMS’ launch on November 10.
“Given our members’ experience, we believe the chaos that they and clients have lived is more than a new system’s “teething pains,” said Poole-Cotnam.
“When we have our final survey results, we will take them forward to the Ministry in the full expectation that immediate action will be taken to alleviate the current situation and hold to account those responsible for the current shambles.”
For more information, contact:
Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, Chair, CUPE Social Service Workers Coordinating Committee: 613-864-1061
Andrew Hunter, CUPE Social Services Coordinator: 519-496-5314
Mary Unan, CUPE Communications: 905-739-3999 ext. 240 or 647-390-9839 (cell)