Ontario’s new $240-million computer system set up to manage the province’s social assistance caseload, had a “glitch” Monday that assigned $20 million in overpayments to 17,000 cases — either individuals or families.
Amber Anderson, press secretary to Ontario’s Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek, confirmed the incident Friday evening.
Anderson said the province, which manages 500,000 Ontario Works (OW) and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) cases, moved to fix the problem with the new software platform in “24 hours.”
Anderson said 11,000 of the overpayments were corrected right way but 6,000 cases may have received payments — mostly through direct deposits and the rest through mailed-out cheques. In those cases the province had to arrange for a stop payment, or a reverse transaction.
In 250 cases the overpayments are still outstanding, and the province has reached out to case workers to help get the money back from recipients.
“If there was an overpayment, we expect to be paid back,” said Anderson.
The new system — this is its first week of rollout — was set up to deliver social assistance more efficiently, and allow caseworkers to spend more time with their clients.
The Social Assistance Management Systems (SAMS), which took four years to develop and implement, replaces an outdated computer system Ontario previously used.
Anderson said the ministry is in some cases using “manual validations” to ensure the new system is working properly.
Also, additional ministry staff have been assigned locally to help front-line staff manage SAMS.
The problems have been particularly acute in Hamilton and the city’s Ontario Works caseload, according to city manager Michael Kirkopoulos.
City staff have been meeting daily to assess the immediate and long-term “challenges” with implementing the new system, and technical issues include over and under-payments, Kirkopoulos said in an emailed statement to the Star late Friday.
“We have spoken to colleagues in various other municipalities, and the depth and breadth of the issues and challenges posed by SAMS is shared across the province. It’s not just Hamilton specific,” Kirkopoulos added.