OPSEU President – “I have seen the Grinch and its name is SAMS”

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Thunder Bay District Social Services
Thunder Bay District Social Services offices in Thunder Bay

Thunder Bay District Social Services

Problems Continue for Social Assistance Payments

THUNDER BAY – Problems with the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) continue. Here in Thunder Bay NetNewsLedger has received reports of people who are not on Ontario Works receiving large cheques, as the system seems to be continuing to demonstrate the same problems it did last month. The Ontario Public Service Employees Union, whose workers are on the frontlines with the people who are on Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program report similar findings across Ontario.

“I have seen the Grinch and its name is SAMS,” said OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas. “Just when we imagined the problems caused by this broken and discredited system could not be worse, we are learning that, in fact, they are more devastating than ever at the end of this month.”

“Computer problems that plagued the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) in November, causing havoc for recipients of government assistance payments, are repeating themselves at the end of this month”, says the Ontario Public Service Employees Union (OPSEU).

Frontline OPSEU workers, who administer the social assistance payments to Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and Ontario Works recipients, report that there has again been a serious breakdown in the system with SAMS continuing to issue payments for incorrect amounts marked by overpayments, underpayments and, in some cases, no payments whatsoever.

And on the eve of Christmas, some eligible recipients are being informed by letter that their benefits have been suspended altogether. There have been cases reported where eligible people have had their benefits suspended, and then received “back payments”. Some of those recipients are left very confused and not sure what they should do. At a time of the year when money is especially tight, if people spend those cheques, they run the risk of having to pay the funds back.

Thomas cited one example where an ODSP recipient with four dependents received $2.50 instead of the $1,800 to which they were entitled. Additionally, the Sudbury, Hamilton and Kingston ODSP offices did not receive some cheques which means caseworkers will have to investigate each missing cheque, issue a stop payment, and then issue a manual cheque.

Correcting the massive problems caused this month could take weeks to resolve, the union says, depriving potentially thousands of recipients of monies they would normally spend during this holiday season.

“This government simply doesn’t ‘get it,’” said Thomas. “It was warned from the outset that SAMS was not in fit shape to begin operations in November but the alert was ignored. In the meantime, who pays the price for this mismanagement? Some of the most vulnerable and marginalized people in our province are paying a steep price the government’s incredible incompetence.

“Worse of all, there appears to be no end to the ways this SAMS fiasco is spiraling out of control. What can ODSP and OW recipients expect 30 days from now? More of the same?”

On Dec. 17 OPSEU announced that it will seek an injunction against the government to halt the SAMS program on grounds that the government violated the rights of social assistance recipients under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedom by implementing a system it knew was flawed.