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OPSEU President’s letter to the Minister of Community and Social Services re: SAMS

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The Honourable Helena Jaczek
Minister of Community and Social Services
80 Grosvenor Street
Hepburn, 6th Floor
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1E9

Dear Dr. Jaczek:

As you are undoubtedly aware, today marks the one year anniversary of the implementation of the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS).

Anniversaries are usually something to celebrate…but not on this occasion.

The past year has been a nightmare for OPSEU members working in the ODSP, OW and ACSD programs. When SAMS was launched in November 2014, frontline workers experienced non-stop technical problems with disastrous consequences for vulnerable social assistance recipients. In the months that followed workers scrambled to implement workarounds and fixes to ensure their clients continued to receive the assistance they rely on.

Fast forward to today and not much has changed. The SAMS software still requires numerous workarounds and fixes to produce correct entitlements. Ongoing technical problems combined with frequent program outages continue to frustrate frontline workers best efforts to provide high-quality services to social assistance recipients.

However, twelve months later, the greatest concern is the heavy human toll SAMS has taken on frontline workers and social assistance recipients.

The stress of navigating the myriad of technical issues combined with a genuine concern for their clients has deeply affected the mental and physical well-being of many frontline workers. Worksites across the province are short staffed, and the staff that remain must deal with formidable workload pressures. Be certain: your ministry must do more to alleviate these pressures.

For social assistance recipients, trust in the system has become compromised. SAMS’ deficiencies have literally short-changed many individuals and families who depend on social assistance supports. SAMS’ inability to generate accurate and predictable results triggers unnecessary anxiety and frustration amongst vulnerable social assistance recipients.  This remains unacceptable.

Recently, your ministry released its Integrated Transition Plan which details the ongoing work to fix SAMS.  It’s clear that the ministry expects it will be many more months, possibly years, until SAMS is fully functional. The report even indicates the ministry remains optimistic that SAMS will offer significant functional improvements over SDMT and revolutionize social assistance delivery. However, this optimism seems shortsighted when confronted with the reality that frontline workers continue to uncover functionality problems and they know that many of SAMS’ deficiencies cannot be corrected, requiring the permanent use of workarounds and band- aid fixes.

Despite your continued optimism, this anniversary is a reminder that SAMS will never be able to adequately and accurately administer the complex rules and functions of the ODSP, OW and ACSD programs. SAMS’ is not intuitive and fails to deliver predictable results for social assistance recipients.

Moreover, technical problems have caused the price tag of SAMS to soar. Your Integrated Transition Plan puts the current cost of SAMS at $294 million, up from $242 million one year ago. As much as I appreciate your transparency with this figure, I look forward to reading the Auditor General’s upcoming report; I anticipate her findings will provide invaluable insight into the true costs of the SAMS debacle and confirm that this is another private sector boondoggle that costs more and delivers less.

I think it’s time the ministry returned to the drawing board and worked closely with frontline workers to develop a system that is user friendly, can properly administer our social assistance programs, and which upholds the high quality service standards social assistance recipients depend on.

Sincerely,

Warren (Smokey) Thomas
OPSEU President

Related: SAMS Index Page