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The Ontario Social Assistance Management System (SAMS)

January 12, 2016 Poverty Reduction

Like others we’ve been worrying about the province’s Social Assistance Management computer system (SAMS).  Put in place in the fall of 2014, it has been a nightmare for many of our clients and others in the community.

Last January, we took note of comments made to the Toronto Star by John Stapleton. Stapleton is a much respected, former provincial social assistance policy analyst.  Stapleton believes the new setup is problematic for such complex systems as Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). 

“If you’re a code jockey and you’re trying to write code for a new system, you need a yes or no answer. But that’s not the way welfare works. Welfare is a whole web of discretionary decision making that no code jockey is ever going to be able to deal with. You have a (welfare) system now that is so complicated … you have exceptions, to exceptions to exceptions based on discretion,” said Stapleton...

That was a year ago.  Have these complex problems been sorted out? Recently we have been listening to what others have to say. First we’ll hear from the Minister responsible for the file.

• “We will continue to work towards achieving the goals of the transition plan. Ontarians will ultimately be able to realize the tremendous value of SAMS in helping to deliver improved client services that were not possible without 21st-century technology.”

Community and Social Services Minister Helena Jaczek. (below)

Others are not as optimistic.

• The level of functionality of SAMS is not what we thought it would be and it has caused a high turnover in case manager positions. 

Heidy Van Dyk, Manager of Haldimand Norfolk Social Services and Housing, as reported by the Norfolk News.

• The system has 771 "serious defects that are not yet fixed. Until most of the serious defects are identified and fixed, SAMS will continue to generate errors."

Bonnie Lysyk, Auditor General

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk (pictured to the left), as reported by Mike Crawley CBC News


• “We have been more than patient. “After 12 months of promises from the system’s developers, ministry staff and the minister herself, it’s time to say once again, SAMS isn’t working.” 

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

•  “The consequences of launching a defective system has so far included about $140 million in benefit calculation errors (consisting of $89 million in potential overpayments and $51 million in potential underpayments) generated by SAMS and the issuance of many letters and tax information slips with incorrect information, some of which may never be resolved.” 

Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk as reported by Antonella Artuso at

  “I have nothing but sympathy for the front line workers because they are constantly being assaulted by a computer system that is crap and a government that has no interest in actually doing something positive with that system. It is designed to get rid of workers. Instead, it has prompted the hiring of more workers to get the system corrected and keep things moving while it is corrected.  But the number of people on the roles keeps going up.  

John Mills, Hamilton social assistance recipient and member of the Speak Now Hamilton Speakers Bureau

We’ll leave the final word to Deb Matthews, Deputy Premier, President of the Treasury Board, Minister Responsible for the Poverty Reduction Strategy.  In 2004, she was tasked to come up with recommendations for improvement to the Ontario social assistance system.  She argued forcefully that the system should move from one: 

“so mired in a labyrinth of rules around financial eligibility, to a system where the rules are simple, clear, well-communicated and focused on helping people improve their circumstances and opportunities for success.”

(From the Review of Employment Assistance Programs in Ontario Works & Ontario Disability Support Program, 2004)

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