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SAMS creating havoc in local social assistance offices

KINGSTON, ON – Vulnerable people on social assistance in Kingston continue to be the victims of the chaotic introduction of a new case management system in local offices of Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program, charge local members of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE).

Thousands of families and individuals in the Kingston area who rely on social assistance are dealing with the consequences of late, wrong or missing payments, despite the best efforts of workers to grapple with a system that has created havoc for both groups.

The Social Assistance Management System (SAMS) is a new case management system launched at Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program in early November. Despite many months of delay and province-wide testing, SAMS has been a source of stress and worry to both clients and the workers whose job it is to provide financial assistance to vulnerable Ontarians.

“Case managers and other staff find themselves in an impossible situation. Their jobs are to assist families and individuals who are in need, but they feel stymied, frustrated and helpless,” said Adam Bol, president of Kingston’s CUPE Local 109.

Bol’s statement is echoed by hundreds of caseworkers across the province, who have responded anonymously to a survey set up by CUPE. Frontline workers raised the alarm last week about the new computer system and the havoc it has created in workplaces in Ontario.

CUPE members in Kingston recount heartbreaking stories of lives thrown into turmoil by absent, late or incorrect payments, system errors, and the inability to complete case files. At the same time, stress in the workplace has reached intolerable levels, as workers struggle to navigate a system plagued by system errors and conversion problems. Workers also report that the new system is an “ergonomic nightmare” that will give rise to increased workplace injuries such as repetitive strain injury (RSI).

Survey respondents say the new system’s cumbersome and inefficient processes are also creating significant delays, leaving workers unable to provide timely or personal service to clients. Workers also cite dramatic increases in the time spent on data entry and concerns over potential privacy breaches.

A sample of comments from workers in Kingston’s Ontario Works office includes:

  • SAMS is not a user-friendly or client-friendly system.
  • SAMS is the worst possible program that could be put into use for the type of day-to-day work that front line staff does.
  • We are spending so much time and energy satisfying a computer program that the level of service to clients is suffering. At the end of the line, after all the clicking and the frustration, real human beings (clients) are still depending on us.
  • We cannot deliver what we have in the past. The system and the new technology are not only failing us, they are failing our clients. Shut [SAMS] down and focus on the real people who deserve better.
  • Frustration of the program, length to complete a simple entry and lack of support.
  • Even if the issues with conversion are fixed, which is going to take months, SAMS is a lousy system and is not suitable to operate in social assistance.
  • It was obvious that no input was asked from a frontline worker.

For more information, contact:
Adam Bol, President, CUPE Local 109, 613-484-0871
Kathy Todd, CUPE National Representative, 613-542-2069, ext. 227
Mary Unan, CUPE Communications: 905-739-3999 ext. 240 or 647-390-9839 (cell)