Gary Thompson says he received more than $1,200 in welfare money he was not entitled to, so he gave it away to those shortchanged by the province’s troubled welfare computer system.
The 60-year-old Toronto man said he received two cheques from the City of Toronto’s employment and social services department in December, despite the fact that he was working.
Thompson, a former social assistance recipient, said he received a call from a city official on Dec. 2, the day after he received the first $623.20 cheque.
“I told her I was expecting a call,” Thompson said. “She said it [the cheque] was a mistake and that I should cash the cheque and it would be classed as an overpayment if I ever wound up back on welfare.”
At the time, Thompson had been employed as an outreach worker for the Workers’ Action Centre for nine months and the city official knew this, he said.
On Dec. 22, Thompson said he received a second $623.20 cheque in the mail. He cashed the two cheques in before Christmas and said he gave the money away to those who did not receive their welfare payments due to the controversial Social Assistance Management System (SAMS).
Thompson said he gave the cash to eight strangers, including a single mother who was expecting to receive $900 in welfare last month, but received a cheque for only $250.
“These people didn’t get their social assistance because the system is all messed up. There is something wrong with the programming, because I was never supposed to get this money and then there are people going without,” Thompson told the Star.
While he was receiving welfare payments, Thompson said his money would always be directly deposited into his bank account. “I’ve never gotten a cheque until Dec. 1. I don’t know why I’m getting them now,” he said.
The $240 million SAMS computer system, which is used to administer welfare and disability payments to hundreds of thousands of recipients across the province, has been plagued with problems since it was launched in mid-November.
Shortly before Thompson received his first cheque, the system had assigned $20 million in overpayments to 17,000 individuals or families. Last month, the province said it had recovered most of the money, but needed to recoup about 90 overpayments, averaging at $1,100 each.
Anna McGrath, from the City of Toronto employment and social services department, said she could not discuss any individual case, even with the client’s consent, due to privacy concerns.
Every month, the department issues $65 million in Ontario Works benefits to a caseload of over 90,000, and it is a rare occurrence for an individual who is no longer on assistance to receive a payment, McGrath said.
Under legislation, if individuals receive money they are not entitled to, there is a requirement for the money to be recovered, she said. “We would not advise an individual to cash a cheque without confirming entitlement, in particular when the client expressed his concern.”
Thompson moved to Toronto from Vancouver after his mother fell seriously ill about four years ago.
He struggled to find steady work and wound up on social assistance for about a year before getting a job at the Workers’ Action Centre last March. He immediately informed the city of his employment status, and his monthly payments stopped, he said.
His contract with the centre ended on Dec. 19, and he said he has since applied for unemployment insurance.
The Ministry of Community and Social Services handles social assistance payments in Ontario. Spokesperson Kristen Tedesco said in an email that the ministry could not comment on individual cases for privacy reasons, but that it is possible for an employed person to continue receiving social assistance payments.
“Generally speaking, there are a number of instances when a payment might be issued even after a recipient reported employment,” Tedesco said. “Social assistance recipients may still be eligible for social assistance payments when earning income, depending on their circumstances and employment income.”
She added that there have been no significant issues reported with monthly payments, which were processed on Dec. 22.