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Letter from the Honourable Helena Jaczek to OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas re: Social Assistance Management System (SAMS)

Letter from the Honourable Helena Jaczek to OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas re: Social Assistance Management System (SAMS)

We the North
We the North
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December 3, 2014

Mr. Warren (Smokey) Thomas
President
Ontario Public Services Employees Union
100 Lesmill Road
Toronto, Ontario
M3B 3P8

Dear Mr. Thomas:

I am writing in response to your letter regarding the implementation of the Social Assistance Management System (SAMS).

Our government is dedicated to making the lives of our most vulnerable people and families better. Our commitment to the Poverty Reduction Strategy and Social Assistance Transformation is focused on making life easier for those struggling financially and living in poverty. Modernizing the technology used by case managers to serve these clients is a key component of reforming social assistance, This system will help our caseworkers have more time to spend with their clients to help them achieve their employment and life goals -something I know your organization agrees is important.

My staff and I are committed to fixing any issues that have arisen in the implementation of SAMS, and we remain confident in the results of the first Ontario Works and ODSP monthly pay-runs in the new system. The core of the system is working well, and we are working with our staff and municipal delivery partners on solutions to any problems that have occurred. We have already made significant progress in many areas, including access and system performance. While we continue to implement system fixes on a regular basis, this Is an expected part of the early life cycle of the technology.

The health and safety of all MCSS staff is of great importance, and we understand the stress and frustration being experienced by staff as we adopt this important new technology. For that reason, we have made the ongoing support of all staff through this transition period a key priority. In ODSP, an additional 47 people were added to support the transition, overtime was approved to allow staff time to participate in further training while managing their caseload, and dedicated resources were provided to offices to support the transition.

Since the SAMS launch, my ministry has also put in place a number of additional measures to support our staff, including dedicated phone lines and email addresses for areas that are particularly challenging for staff and deploying our learning facilitators and subject matter experts to offices that have requested additional supports.

Over the past three years, we have been working with front-line staff on the requirements, design and testing of the new system. Over 11,000 users completed SAMS training in in approximately 257 offices. Rather than rush implementation, we postponed the launch, ran further testing and provided more training. Such a complex transition will never be without its challenges, and I hope we can work together to smooth the way forward.

Reverting to SDMT would be neither feasible nor responsible – any attempt to do so would result in major issues for staff, delay cheques for clients, and create greater confusion. It would also set back our objective of transforming social assistance and improving outcomes for the most vulnerable people in our communities.

I have asked Ministry officials to meet with you and your team to discuss your concerns further as we continue to work to improve the situation. Our focus in the near future needs to be on working together to resolve the problems that currently exist. I am asking for your members’ continued patience and understanding to help us achieve this. I also want to thank them for the work they have done to this point.

We remain committed to working closely with our front line staff to implement SAMS and continuing to provide support to our clients.

Sincerely,

Dr. Helena Jaczek
Minister