In the wake of damaging new details about the Wynne government’s decisions around the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS), CUPE Ontario has released the results of a recent survey of its members in Ontario Works (OW) offices across the province.

The survey’s findings confirm that, despite the additional millions spent on the system, SAMS is behind a dramatic decline in face-to-face case management and poorer service for vulnerable Ontarians on social assistance.

The survey of OW workers included three questions that focused on client service and SAMS’ sustainability:

  • 97 per cent of respondents report that SAMS’s design means they have less time for face-to-face case-planning with social assistance recipients – unchanged from the original survey in December 2014 and another in March 2015;
  • 96.7 per cent of respondents believe that SAMS has had a negative impact on recipients of social assistance – a 3.3 per cent improvement from 100% when the system was introduced 17 months ago;
  • 80 per cent of respondents don’t think that operating with SAMS in the workplace is sustainable.

OW workers expressed ongoing frustration. The time they would otherwise spend with recipients – carrying out in-depth needs assessments, organizing work and community placements, accessing training and skills programs, etc. – was now spent navigating SAMS’ poor system design and dealing with continuing functionality issues.

“The minister of Community and Social Services has stated time and time again that SAMS would allow for workers to spend more face-to-face case planning time with recipients,” said Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam, chair of CUPE’s social services committee. “Now, 17 months later, the front line has clearly stated that SAMS functionality clearly does not support more face to face case planning time with recipients.”

“This is particularly galling in light of the money that the government continues to throw at SAMS.”

Poole-Cotnam said the Ministry must recognize there are no efficiencies with day to day operations using SAMS and an immediate infusion of funding is necessary to counter-act the poor design of the software. The cities of Ottawa, Toronto and Hamilton alone are claiming more than $9 million in extra costs they continue to incur in dealing with the software’s problems.

“Our members in Ontario Works just want to return to the very important work of case planning with social assistance recipients,” said Poole-Cotman, adding that growing caseloads and a “lemon computer system” are creating more and more barriers for recipients.

“Without increased budgets for staffing to get to that very important work, things will continue in the downward spiral that began in November 2014. Ultimately this hurts ordinary Ontarians, because they are not provided with vital services which can assist them to overcome barriers and move through the continuum of transitioning off social assistance or to longer term programs to meet specific individual needs.

“We can’t allow SAMS to keep imposing its flaws and failures on both workers and social assistance recipients,” concluded Poole-Cotnam.

For more information, please contact:

Carrie Lynn Poole-Cotnam
Chair, Social Service Workers Coordinating Committee

Andrew Hunter
CUPE Social Services Coordinator

Mary Unan
CUPE Communications