A statement by a top official in the Community and Social Services ministry who told a Queen’s Park committee in November that the $240 million price tag for the new welfare computer system is “all inclusive’’ was misleading, an opposition MPP says.
On Wednesday the Toronto Star reported the ministry is paying just shy of $16 million in additional costs for the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) including training, overtime and hiring extra staff.
For instance 60 temporary positions were created to support “pre- and post-implementation transition activities’’ related to SAMS, the ministry says.
The ministry says it “anticipated and budgeted for’’ $11 million of those costs — the ministry allocated an additional $5 million in mid-December after municipalities administering Ontario Works expressed concerns about mounting overtime costs related to the troubled SAMS — and that the money is part of the ministry’s regular line item for its yearly operating budget.
But the figures are all new to NDP MPP Cindy Forster (Welland) and Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker (Bruce—Grey—Owen Sound).
Both attended a standing committee on estimates hearing at Queen’s Park on Nov. 4, that discussed finances for Ministry of Community and Social Services programs, including SAMS, a software program that administers thousands of cases in the province — Ontario Works, the Ontario Disability Support Program, and assistance for children with severe disabilities.
The all-party committee meeting, held days before the launch of SAMS, was also attended by Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek, and senior staffers in her ministry, including Martin Thumm, the government’s executive lead on the SAMS project.
According to a transcript from the meeting, Thumm, whose position is at the same level as an assistant deputy minister, was asked by Forster what the “total cost” for SAMS is, including delays rolling the system out, training, and any funds used to compensate municipalities.
“The total cost of the project is $240 million. That goes right back to its inception in 2009 . . . that is all inclusive,’’ he told the committee.
“Training and everything?’’ Forster asked.
“That includes all of the costs, including training,’’ Thumm replied.
In a statement Wednesday the ministry said there’s a “distinction’’ in the money spent for SAMS, between “developing’’ the computer system and “operating it.’’
Jaczek’s press secretary, Amber Anderson, said at the estimates committee Thumm gave the overall project development cost of $240 million. That covered “developing the training curriculum and tools, and training the trainers’’ which saw IBM project staff training individuals from ODSP and Ontario Works offices on how to operate SAMS, she said.
Then there were costs for those workers to train other caseworkers, an operational cost, according to Anderson.
“As this is an ongoing operating cost, it is appropriate that these (latter training) costs be accounted for in the ODSP and Ontario Works operating budgets, not the $240 million development cost,’’ she said.
But Forster says these distinctions between operational and project costs weren’t made at all during the committee hearing in November.
“My question was clearly about the overall SAMS program, so I thought it was all-in (costs) when I was asking my question,’’ she said.