Thursday 1 December 1994

1994 annual report, Provincial Auditor

Ministry of Community and Social Services

Rosemary Proctor, deputy minister

Kevin Costante, assistant deputy minister, social assistance and employment opportunities

Mary Kardos Burton, director, social assistance programs branch


*Chair / Président: Cordiano, Joseph (Lawrence L)

*Vice-Chair / Vice-Présidente: Poole, Dianne (Eglinton L)

Bisson, Gilles (Cochrane South/-Sud ND)

*Callahan, Robert V. (Brampton South/-Sud L)

Crozier, Bruce (Essex South)

*Frankford, Robert (Scarborough East/-Est ND)

*Marchese, Rosario (Fort York ND)

Marland, Margaret (Mississauga South/-Sud PC)

*Martel, Shelley, (Sudbury East/-Est ND)

*O'Connor, Larry (Durham-York ND)

*Perruzza, Anthony (Downsview ND)

Tilson, David (Dufferin-Peel PC)

*In attendance / présents

Substitutions present / Membres remplaçants présents:

Hope, Randy R. (Chatham-Kent ND) for Mr Bisson

Jackson, Cameron (Burlington South/-Sud PC) for Mrs Marland

White, Drummond (Durham Centre ND) for Mr Perruzza

Also taking part / Autres participants et participantes:

Office of the Provincial Auditor:

Amrite, Dinkar, director, community and social services audit portfolio

Peters, Erik, Provincial Auditor

Clerk / Greffier: Decker, Todd

Staff / Personnel: Anderson, Anne, research officer, Legislative Research Service

The committee met at 1105 in committee room 1 following a closed session.


The Chair (Mr Joseph Cordiano): Good morning to our guests from the Ministry of Community and Social Services, who have just joined us. Rosemary Proctor, deputy minister, welcome to the committee. I'm going to commence our proceedings so that we may be on time and not go over the lunch period. Some of the other members on the committee will be joining us shortly, I hope, but I think we can proceed. You have a brief statement to open and then we will move on to questions from committee members.

Ms Rosemary Proctor: Good morning. I'm glad to be here today to address the audit report about the general welfare assistance program. I would like to introduce to the committee some of the individuals who are with me today. Kevin Costante is the assistant deputy minister for the social assistance and employment opportunities division. Mary Kardos Burton is the director for the social assistance programs branch. We also have with us Moosha Gulycz, who's a policy analyst in the social assistance program.

Before we get to the specific questions, I thought I would like to share with you some of the things that we have been doing to improve Ontario's social assistance system. Generally, we agree with the findings of the auditor's report and we've already answered many of these issues through our efforts to manage the system better. We are already well on our way, developing and putting in place centralized monitoring, the sharing of best practices, staff training and the measurement of STEP effectiveness.

Over the past several years we've been trying to substantially alter the social assistance system on three fronts: The first is fundamental reform of the system, the second is improving the management and accountability in the system, and the third is working towards a greater employment focus.

We've tightened the system through efforts such as case file investigation, which is the comprehensive integration of all our previous caseload management initiatives. We've rolled them all into one effective management practice. CFI establishes province-wide standards in documenting and investigating social assistance cases to ensure only those most in need receive assistance.

Right now all of the social assistance cases are being reviewed to this new, higher standard. To date, about 104,000 cases are making repayments because of errors, abuse or incomplete file information. These reviews have resulted in additional savings of $66.3 million in the first five months of this fiscal year. Part of this effort involves the participation of municipalities to improve their management capabilities, through 100% funding of their initiatives by the province.

It's important to remember the context, to think of the economic situation at the time when these initiatives were and are being put into place. Ontario's social assistance system has been under great pressure in the midst of recession. As people lost their jobs and their unemployment insurance benefits ran out, they turned to social assistance in increasing numbers. We had to hire new workers to cope with the caseload and to help people who were in need.

One of our priorities has been to get people off the system and back into the workforce. Today, programs such as Jobs Ontario, JobLink and STEP and efforts such as case file investigation, in addition to changes in the economy, mean that the number of cases in a typical month is coming down. There are now 32,500 fewer households on social assistance since March, and this represents a 4.7% decrease.

Since the audit was completed, we've done a preliminary analysis of the cost savings available from the STEP program, the supports to employment program. Currently there are 96,000 people in STEP: 36,000 sole-support parents, 41,000 people who have been called "unemployable" and 19,000 others, such as disabled people and students.

As a result, we are saving $35 million per month in social assistance payments. We are reviewing methods of evaluation that we could use to determine if there is any way to make the program more effective, and this winter we will increase our promotion of STEP.

So far, Jobs Ontario has provided jobs for 60,000 Ontario residents. Next spring, JobLink resource centres will help people on welfare or family benefits to start work or enter paid training that can lead to a job.

Beyond helping individuals, we are ensuring the integrity of the system by continuing to monitor our programs. In fact, all monitoring activities will be coordinated within the accountability and monitoring action plan, which is a ministry initiative in which we are establishing a systematic and consistent approach to monitoring. It is our expectation that all the elements would be in place by May 1995.

The accountability and monitoring action plan helps us to report and measures centrally all the monitoring activities across the province. As part of this effort, we're developing a resource guide to assist in monitoring, as well as a process for identifying and sharing municipal best practices, and a review of all municipal monitoring activities. We want to identify what works and then replicate it wherever we can.

We are working with municipalities to discuss their monitoring activities. In the middle of next month we'll be meeting with municipalities to start a process to identify and share best practices. I met with OMSSA, the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association, earlier this week as part of the launch of that work. We've done some preliminary work on other areas of the plan, including the development of outcome indicators and monitoring GWA administration. We'll be focusing on these areas in the new year. We have also linked monitoring activities to our new automated system, Caseworker Technology, to ensure that as we automate in the future for this program, we will have the monitoring capacity and capability built in.

Of course, the training of program review officers is an important part of our ongoing improvement of the social assistance system. In the past year we've provided more than $3 million to the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association and will provide another $1.8 million for income maintenance training. We have also contracted with OMSSA to provide employment and multicultural training for staff. We're now developing a program review officer training program which includes information on auditing techniques, report writing and review methods. This will be completed by the spring of 1995.

All of these efforts together have improved the administration of the social assistance system, while ensuring that those in need get the help that they deserve.

That concludes my opening comments and we would very much welcome your questions.

The Chair: Thank you. We will start with Ms Poole and then Mr Callahan has a question as well.

Ms Dianne Poole: How many minutes per caucus, Chair?

The Chair: We have about 40 minutes left, so I think we should start with 10 or 15 minutes and then go back and forth -- 10 minutes.

Mr Rosario Marchese (Fort York): Say 15.

The Chair: Okay, 15.

Ms Poole: You might end up getting short-changed because --

Mr Robert V. Callahan (Brampton South): You actually could have 20 as no one's here from the third party.

The Chair: Let's say 15 minutes.

Mr Callahan: Are we saving 10 minutes for the third party, which isn't here?

The Chair: Well, we can save that for the new year.

Mr Callahan: All right. Send it to them in a Christmas card.

The Chair: Send it to them in an envelope.

Mr Callahan: This is very important.

Ms Poole: I'm actually quite surprised the Conservatives haven't showed up today since they specifically asked for this to be on the agenda this morning.

Mr Callahan: Probably out doing The Common Sense Revolution.

Ms Poole: We will be delighted to take their time. First of all, welcome to the committee and thank you for your presentation. I have several comments stemming from your presentation and then a number of questions from the auditor's report.

On page 3 of your brief, you talk about the 104,000 cases "making repayments because of errors, abuse or incomplete file information," and you say that this has "resulted in additional savings of $66.3 million in the first five months of this fiscal year." Is that $66.3 million collected or $66.3 million owed?

Ms Proctor: The $66.3 million refers to the total savings from all of the initiatives that we've achieved in the first five months of the year through a variety of methods. I would ask Kevin if he wants to provide you with some more detail about what that means and where that comes from.

Mr Kevin Costante: That is money that we actually did not pay out in terms of benefits, so it is money in the bank.

Ms Poole: So this would not be people you had overpaid and from whom you had collected money back?

Mr Costante: Part of it is from past overpayments which we are collecting money back on, yes.

Ms Poole: And part of it would be money that you don't have to pay out in the future because you've now corrected the error?

Mr Costante: No, we only counted the savings for the five months in question, so there will be more savings on top of that each month as we collect more and more. This is only the amount of actual savings in those five months. We haven't given you an annualized figure, so if they owed us $1,000 and they were paying it at $100 a month, I've only given you the $500 savings for these five months; there's another $500 to come. There's a fuller report -- I'm not sure if that was circulated -- I could give you now.

Ms Poole: Yes, we received a copy of that this morning. The second is about STEP, the supports to employment program, which was initiated, I think, around 1989, coming out of the SARC report. I think it has been an incredibly successful program and has a wide range of support among many people. But my understanding, from comments that were made by the Comsoc critic for our party, was that in fact there had been cutbacks in certain aspects of STEP. I wonder if you would like to elaborate on that.

Ms Proctor: I will comment briefly and then I'd ask Kevin again to fill in on some of the details of this. I think that we are seeing increasing takeup of the STEP program, rather than a reduction in it, although we have, over the past year, changed some of the parameters for the program in a couple of areas. But, as people begin to work part-time, the STEP rules -- STEP isn't so much a program as it is a set of rules which enable people to begin to work and to earn some money and to retain a substantial portion of their benefits while they're working themselves off social assistance and into complete employment.

The aspects of that that have been changed have to do with the base amount that's retained by an individual, depending on the kind of case it is, rather than the overall parameters of the program, which continue in place and which I think are getting increasing takeup as people do begin to work part-time and so forth. Kevin could explain any of the detail in terms of changes that have been made to that program in the last little while.

Mr Costante: In terms of the success of the program, prior to the introduction of STEP -- I don't have the exact number with me, but I believe around 28,000 people were on social assistance with some sort of income from employment. As the deputy minister has mentioned, that has now increased to 96,000. If we were paying those 96,000 full benefits, our costs would be another $35 million a month. We feel it is a very, very successful program and is having the desired effect of taking people who are on social assistance and providing them with a transition phase into employment. I would agree with your first comments wholeheartedly.

In terms of the changes that have occurred to STEP, in 1992, I believe, there was a rule change made that is called the STEP notch. Basically, for people coming on to social assistance, the STEP rules would not apply for three months. But that did not apply for existing individuals who were already on social assistance, because STEP was intended to help people make the exit off social assistance into the workforce. There was some concern on the part of the government that having the STEP rules in place would encourage a large number of people to come on to social assistance in order to get the top-up, which was seen as an income supplementation type of piece that would potentially have been very expensive.

There would be several hundred thousand people in the workforce who could have potentially come on. Of course, we don't know exactly because with social assistance the rules are both income and assets. We don't know what people's assets are.

The second set of rule changes occurred in 1993, as a part of the expenditure control plan. STEP, as you know, is made up of two components. There is what is called flat-rate exemptions which allow people to -- they don't have any deduction. They're allowed to keep 100% of the first amount of money that they make through employment. Then, after those flat-rate exemptions, we start reducing their benefits at 75 cents for every dollar that they earn.


The change that was in made in 1993 as part of the ECP process was to reduce some of those flat-rate exemptions. Particularly for single employables, the flat-rate exemptions were reduced to $50. Mary or Moosha can help me, but I believe they were $75 prior to that. For married individuals with no kids, I believe the flat-rate exemptions were reduced to $100 from a previous amount of about $125. I could get you the exact numbers; I'm sorry, I'm trying to do this by memory.

Ms Poole: I'd appreciate it if you could provide us with some more information at a later date. Unfortunately, our time's very limited this morning. I guess I probably only have time for one more question because I know my colleague Mr Callahan has some.

With regard to your statement that, "Jobs Ontario has provided jobs for 60,000 Ontario residents," could you tell me what number of those 60,000 -- by the way, the latest figures we were given in our caucus were from October, which showed 48,000. Notwithstanding that, how many of the 60,000 that you state here would be social assistance recipients?

Mr Costante: Of the 48,000 that were filled, I believe 19,000 were social assistance recipients, and I'm not sure if those are the October numbers or not. I'm sorry. I'd have to check on that, but I think it's approximately 19,000, unless your --

Ms Poole: So the numbers are according.

Mr Costante: My 19,000 are September or October numbers.

Ms Poole: So the number is not 60,000; it is 48,000 that were filled?

Mr Costante: Isn't that the number that you had quoted?

Ms Poole: That's the number that was given in October, but it says 60,000 in this document, which is a substantive --

Mr Costante: I believe 60,000 is the number that -- there are jobs that have been offered by employers and then there's how many of those have been filled or are in the process of being filled.

Ms Poole: So it's provided 48,000 jobs that are filled.

Mr Costante: I think actual people in jobs. I believe that is the number.

Ms Poole: Which I think is a much more definitive figure. Our statistics over the last two years have shown that there's a takeup of one in three by social assistance recipients, which would probably be fairly close to what you just said, and certainly the original intent of the Jobs Ontario program was to be geared to social assistance recipients. It was our finding that a number of the target groups were in fact getting far fewer of the jobs than others and that many of the jobs were being filled by people who would normally get those jobs. People who go to work at a golf course doing the maintenance work over a certain season this time got Jobs Ontario grants to do it. Restaurants such as Movenpick would get Jobs Ontario grants for people they were going to bring in anyway. It really wasn't taking people off social assistance and taking them out of the system.

We can probably have a longer conversation about that when we reconvene in the spring session, but that's my concern about Jobs Ontario.

Mr Callahan, I apologize, but there are five minutes left.

Mr Callahan: I think that was a rhetorical question by Ms Poole; I don't think it requires a response unless you want one.

It's my understanding that in order to qualify for Jobs Ontario, you have to be on welfare. Have you got any records of how many people have applied for welfare simply to get on Jobs Ontario?

Ms Proctor: I think that's part of the first question. I'd like to just clarify that the Jobs Ontario Training program is for people who are on welfare or who have exhausted their UI benefits. So the people who are going into the program and who are getting jobs through the program come in through both of those categories. It isn't just welfare recipients; it's also people who have exhausted their UI benefits.

I think the initial attempt there was that we were saying, "Let's try to get about half social assistance recipients, half people who have exhausted their UI benefits." At times, it has been tempting to try to push the percentage of social assistance recipients up and we certainly keep the pressure --

Mr Callahan: I don't mean to interrupt, but I have very little time. I'd like an answer to my question if you have statistics on how many people have applied for welfare in order to qualify for Jobs Ontario.

Mr Costante: I don't think there would be any statistics on that. Anyone who applies for welfare would have to meet the welfare criteria, the asset and income level. So that's not a question that we would ask them. They would have to meet our criteria to get on to the program.

Mr Callahan: That's not a question that you would put on the form? It seems to me to be a good question to put on the application.

Mr Anthony Perruzza (Downsview): Why would you want to do that?

Mr Callahan: You'll get your chance.

The Chair: Order. Mr Callahan has the floor. You have one minute left. It's probably enough time.

Mr Callahan: I would suggest you put that on the application because it would be interesting to determine just how many people have had to go through that artificial result to get Jobs Ontario.

The second question is, and I have very limited time: Obviously, from everything you've said and everything the auditor has reported, the question of whether or not people are able to defraud welfare depends upon how honest they are in terms of the information they give you. It seems to me that back in about 1990 or 1991, the government of the day eliminated or reduced or didn't increase the number of people going out for interviews with people, checkups. Does that continue to this day? Have the numbers been increased in terms of those support workers who go out and review whether or not people are qualified?

Mr Costante: Yes, since 1990 there have been three increases, major increases, in staff on the family benefits allowance side of social assistance. There were 298 staff added in 1991, I believe. In 1992-93, there were 450 staff added, and most recently, in March of this year, we added another 270. The number is now over 2,000 staff in social assistance, so they've almost doubled.

Mr Callahan: But are those 2,000 people -- as was the case prior to this government -- going out and investigating whether or not people are qualified for it, or is this just general staff you've hired in the ministry to carry out reviews of people's written documents? I want to know how many people are actually in the field in terms of doing home visits.

Mr Costante: I can get you a breakdown of the staff. What I just quoted does include clerical workers. The vast majority of them are income maintenance officers who do client interviews. There are also eligibility review officers, who are specialized staff who investigate fraud complaints, and they include parental support workers who assist single parents to get support awards due to them from spouses.

Mr Callahan: Okay, if you could provide that to us, a comparison between what it was pre-1990 and the history of it till now.

Mr Costante: We can do that.

Mr Callahan: Thank you.

Mr Randy R. Hope (Chatham-Kent): I'd like to focus my comments directly to Ms Poole's comments about Jobs Ontario and how it's misinterpreted that you have to be solely on social assistance in order to be eligible for a Jobs Ontario program, and I think the answer can be clearly directed. Your comments say that out of the 48,000, the number which was given, 19,000 were social assistance recipients.

We have identified them. They've come forward. They've met the criteria to be eligible for social assistance, not like Mr Callahan is saying, that people are going to social assistance just so they can enter the program. These people have met the criteria for social assistance and we've identified them moving out of social assistance through Jobs Ontario to employment.

The question I would have is, out of the rest of the 48,000, they could possibly have been, if they didn't enter the workforce, on social assistance. I guess that's the question. It's kind of an answer.

Mr Callahan: Is that question rhetorical?

Mr Hope: Mr Callahan, I didn't interrupt you when you made your comments and I'd just like to clarify some information.

Ms Proctor: I think I'll start with that in the sense that the people who have exhausted their UI benefits and then would come into the Jobs Ontario Training program or whatever, some portion of those could well be eligible for social assistance. It depends on their family income level and their asset level at the time when they apply.

So some people may be receiving UI benefits. They've exhausted those benefits, but family income or assets would not permit them to come into social assistance. In many other instances, we see people's UI benefits finishing, being curtailed, the changes that have been introduced by the federal government, and so additional cases are coming on to the social assistance caseload as a result.

Within the number of people who are coming into Jobs Ontario Training, we are confident that some portion of that, whose UI benefits are exhausted, would qualify immediately for social assistance. Some other portion might not, and there is some mix in there in terms of the total numbers.


Mr Costante: For planning purposes, we assume that the number of UI exhaustees who would come on to social assistance would be somewhere between 10% and 20% of that group, who would eventually come on to social assistance at some point if Jobs Ontario wasn't there.

Mr Hope: So 10% to 20%, minus the 19,000 of the 48,000, that percentage would eventually end up on social assistance if they didn't access the Jobs Ontario program.

One of the other questions I wanted to ask was, some of the areas criticized in the 1994 auditor's report, which I clearly found out was done between the fall of 1993 and the spring of 1994, were also identified in the 1989 auditor's report --

Ms Shelley Martel (Sudbury East): No, 1987-88.

Mr Larry O'Connor (Durham-York): That would be 1987-88.

Mr Hope: Okay, the 1987-88. Sorry. I wasn't in government then. There was a Liberal government there that wasn't doing its job that it got criticized for. I guess my question would be, with some repeats that have occurred in this auditor's report, what steps have been taken since 1988 to correct and rectify some of those critical areas?

Mr Costante: If I can respond, I think first of all in direct response to the 1988 report, we increased the number of program review officers in the field, a large part of whose responsibilities is to monitor what municipalities do. We increased the number of those positions from 32 to 51.

The second component is, as you know, that through a large part of this time period, the ministry was engaged in looking at a serious overhaul of the entire social assistance system as part of social assistance reform. A lot of planning went into looking at how we would monitor and deal with municipalities that are the deliverers of GWA in that context, so a lot of our planning was done in that context of a fundamental change in terms of the system.

With financial constraints, again as you know, our reform agenda has been limited to the introduction of JobLink to help people make the transition into the workforce. Once it became clear that some of the legislative reform was not going to proceed, at least not at this particular period, we embarked, at about the same time that the auditor's report was being done, in terms of developing a monitoring and accountability plan -- that we would start taking steps such as introducing training for program review officers, setting standards and formats as to how we would deal with municipalities. So we have a whole plan that is in place, I think, that addresses many and all of the issues that are dealt with in this most recent audit report.

Mr Hope: One of the questions I want to refer to is that you started with Mrs Poole dealing with the managing of social assistance in Ontario. You only identified one part of the increased number on page 7, in the part that's called "Total Additional Savings from All Initiatives." I'm wondering if you could just take a little bit of time to give a little more detail than what is prescribed here in the paper about the moneys that have been identified in this area.

Mr Costante: The $66 million is actually comprised of four major components. One of the key things we did as part of the case file investigation process was to instruct our workers to look closely at other sources of income that clients are potentially eligible for. In many places we actually did what were called blitzes and we found that our largest cost saving came from making sure that our clients were accessing and claiming moneys they could receive from things like the Canada pension plan and unemployment insurance. Of the $66 million we saved, $33 million came from that particular source.

Another key component of case file investigation -- as a matter of fact, a lot of the ministry's efforts over the last two or three years have come from the introduction of parental support workers who work with our very large sole-support parent caseload to help them to get support orders in place, and we work very closely with the family support plan in doing that. There was an amount of money, an additional $2 million beyond our previous efforts, that we got in those five months from that particular source.

Another important element of what we've done, and again it was something that was also mentioned in the auditor's report, is that there were many clients who owed both ourselves and the municipalities money at the time that they went off social assistance. The ministry itself had a process in place for collecting these overpayments from past recipients and we have, through the provision of 100% funding support to municipalities, helped them put in overpayment recovery units as well so that they could collect these moneys that are owing to the province and to municipalities from overpayments. Through those efforts, we were able to collect an additional $13.5 million in the first five months.

So in addition to the item that we discussed with MPP Poole, there are those other three items as well.

Mr Hope: One of the questions I have is, it was indicated that you provided like $24 million towards municipalities to help do case file investigations. I'm glad you cleared it up, that it's not people defrauding the system; it's just maybe not knowing that there are other avenues of income that are there. I guess like any other program, is $24 million enough money to correct the system which the auditor has clearly indicated there are problems in? Is $24 million enough, and the money that has been allocated, are the criteria of what it's going to be used for going to change? I mean, like anything else, you're trying to find savings, you've got to spend money, and I'm wondering if spending the money isn't enough. Are we fixing the problem or are we just adding Band-Aid solutions again?

Mr Costante: Of the $24 million, we put out the first $4 million in the last fiscal year and over 50 municipalities participated in this initiative. Many of them, as I mentioned, were setting up overpayment units. Others were doing information sharing between themselves to make sure that clients weren't collecting welfare in more than one jurisdiction. There was a great emphasis on bringing in specialized staff, similar to what the province was doing in terms of trying to check up and do further in-depth investigations where fraud had been potentially identified.

We are this year putting out $10 million of that $24 million. So far I believe -- Mary can correct me if I'm wrong here -- that every municipality with full-time administrators has taken us up on this money. There's been very strong takeup. We're going to be looking at it closely and seeing the results of this year to see whether we need to add additional dollars. I think one of the things we wanted to be able to do is talk about the cost-benefit of these types of initiatives, and if there is a cost-benefit, we may potentially be looking at more dollars because we can save. For an investment of $10 million, if we can save three or four or five times that amount, I think we can make a good case to government for additional funding or ongoing funding, if that's necessary.

To date, I think in our first five months, we consider the $66 million to be very successful to start off. We're expecting to meet our target of $180 million for the year. That is both FBA and GWA. So we think it's a good investment.

The Chair: Mr Hope, there's five minutes left and I have Mr Marchese and Mr O'Connor on the list.

Mr Hope: No problem. I'll yield to them. I didn't know you had anybody else.


Mr Marchese: I want to ask a question which is a follow-up from what Mr Hope had asked, and that question related to some of the criticisms of the audit which were identified not now but also in previous years, and it connects to the administration expenses of, it says here in our research, one large municipality, but I presume it means many other municipalities as well, which receive about 40% of the funds allotted for administration that had not been approved by the ministry for 1992-93, at least at the time of the audit.

The recommendation is, "The ministry should review, and approve municipal budgets for GWA-related administration costs to determine whether allotted funds are distributed equitably to all municipalities."

The response from the ministry is, "We're doing it; either we're doing it or we've done it." I'm not quite clear, based on what the auditor has said, that we have done that. Maybe you can assure us in some concrete way that this has happened or is happening.

Ms Mary Kardos Burton: In fact, the ministry does the municipal administration costs. What we feel we could do better is to document the process. Our program supervisors in area offices in fact do review municipal budgets, and on a quarterly basis they are presented to our area managers, who form a program management committee. They look throughout the province in terms of equitability and distribution. They also take into account local conditions, which would be the cost of union settlements in local offices, how the staff are used, what they're used for etc. Then decisions are made at that senior management committee that if they would result in a redistribution or problems or issues, they would be taken there.

So the process is reviewed, but what we have agreed is that our process hasn't been documented to the extent that it could be so that there's written information, follow-up letters that say, back to the municipality and to us, the issues.

Mr Marchese: Mr Peters, I'm not sure whether you heard the answer.

Mr Erik Peters: Yes.

Mr Marchese: Do you have a comment with respect to the answer and with respect to your own audit?

Mr Dinkar Amrite: No. I think Mary's captured it quite well. From an auditing perspective, I guess we expect to see a formal documentation process, and that was what we had difficulty with.

Mr Marchese: The other question relates very much to the same thing. Again, in our research the auditor's report suggests that there are no province-wide standards for measuring program effectiveness, and the auditor's report also recommends that standards be developed around monitoring.

The ministry response is that you have established a social assistance accountability monitoring plan. The question I suppose would be, what work have you done in this area or completed in this area and what does this plan include that will assure us that the program will in fact be monitored?

Ms Proctor: I'll begin. The plan we refer to includes a number of areas of improvement and changes, in terms of the monitoring, that have to do with staffing, the kind of information that we would monitor and collect centrally, so a number of processes. I'll ask Kevin to speak in a little more detail to what's included in all of that.

Mr Costante: We have actually a draft of our monitoring plan that sets standards and formats that's out for consultation with our field staff right now that actually establishes these. There are a number of things that would be included in that, and that would be the standards you talked about that would talk about the frequency of reviews, the format for those reviews, the methods for selecting files and what's involved in the monitoring activity that the program review officer actually does with the municipalities. That's in draft format out for consultation, so we would be getting that feedback in in the new year and then finalizing that.

Once that's finalized, it'll obviously become a key component of our training program that we will be starting early in the new year. The first component of that training program I believe will be some instructions to our program review officers about auditing techniques in January. I don't know if it's early in January. As we finish the training modules, we'll be completing the training with all the program review officers by late spring. We will also be looking at determining risk assessment to help them in terms of selecting files. I think those are the main components of it.

Ms Kardos Burton: If I could just add to that, there are probably two others. One of the points the Provincial Auditor made was about the information requirements, that information was not being rolled up through our local offices and reported in to me specifically as director. We have a format that's being developed in terms of how that information will be reported. Not only will the information be reported to me, but I will be expected to comment on trends analysis issues etc.

The other area that we are looking at is a resource guide, as the deputy mentioned in her opening comments, for our staff so that they have assistance when they are monitoring in municipalities.

The Vice-Chair (Ms Dianne Poole): We'll move on to Mr O'Connor. We're almost out of time for your caucus, so you probably will only have time for one question.

Mr O'Connor: Okay, one short one, then. The researcher put together this package for us, and it reinforced some of the difficulties we've had in the past because of the changes through the Canada assistance plan. I know that one of the initiatives the ministry had done a lot of work on was the child income program. I think there was some light at the end of the tunnel for a lot of people, hoping that we could move forward with that.

We have a new government in Ottawa, and Mr Axworthy is going around the country, or committees of their caucus, talking about reforms. I just wondered, from the level which you'd come at problems of this nature, do you see any light at the end of the tunnel in working with the federal government to see things like the child income program maybe becoming a reality?

Ms Proctor: I can speak briefly to that. I think there are two aspects of it; one is that the federal paper on social security reform talks about a number of areas of reform within the context of the Canada assistance plan or in terms of replacing the Canada assistance plan and in that regard does express interest in the possibility of a national child income program of some sort. Certainly, Ontario has shared with federal colleagues some of the background information and some of the work, and some of that's been published as well, and they have access to that information to assist their thinking. That's at a very early stage, but there has been certainly some interest expressed there.

On the other hand, the difficulty that the provincial government had and that we had in terms of next steps in implementing a child income program, which becomes part of the whole federal context obviously as well, is the availability of resources to deal with this, because certainly we have not achieved progress in terms of a fair share to Ontario under the Canada assistance plan. That fiscal gap really continues.

That makes it not only a difficulty for us, but in the whole context of what resources are available, I don't know that anyone has figured out how we could accomplish a child income program. But there has been some real interest expressed and around the country some very positive regard for the kind of thinking that went into the design of the Ontario child income program and the structure of that and what it would do to a substantial change in social assistance.

The Vice-Chair: We'll now revert in order back to the Conservative caucus, since Mr Jackson has arrived.

Mr Cameron Jackson (Burlington South): Thank you very much, Madam Chair, and the committee for its indulgence.

I attended the press conference back in October and had difficulty with one of the questions that you had similar difficulty with, so let me try it one more time. It has to do with the fact that you can determine the amount of money that you have made arrangements for repayment of, and you tabled that figure. I didn't grab the right file. It's one in which you made reference to a quantified amount.

You were asked the question, if you know how much your monthly payment will be, you surely must know how long it will take that individual to pay back what they owe the government and how much that total bill is. That was the answer you couldn't give us, because you said you weren't set up on the computer to do that.


I think that's a relevant question to ask in the presence of the auditor because if it was a car payment, my bank would know exactly when I'd be paid off, if I made all my payments, and they'd know how many car loans they had.

If this is welfare repayment, moneys owed to the government, then that's an accounts receivable. Surely, if we can work out a payment pattern, we can tell how much the total is of all that amount; not the total that's out there, just the total we've made deals on and how long it will take us to collect that as an accounts receivable. I'm sorry for using lay language, but I don't have an accounting background, and it's painfully obvious.

Could we take another run at that question? I know the media asked you, I asked you, and the minister and you both were unable to really help us understand what that larger figure really is.

Mr Costante: The question that I was having trouble answering was that they were wanting to know the total amount of the overpayments from day one, and that is an amount that I don't believe we can roll up from our CIM system. I think the amount that we can tell you is the amount that is owing to us in bulk from here on.

Mr Jackson: When you say, "here on," give me the parameters.

Mr Costante: We can tell you the outstanding amount. So we can tell you the outstanding overpayments that are owing to us. What I can't do is go back and say, "They've already paid off $200, and they still owe us $500." I can tell you that they still owe us $500, and I can tell you what that total amount is for the 104,000 cases. Is that the amount?

Mr Jackson: The 104,000 that you have investigated?

Mr Costante: Right; who are making repayments. Again, I'd have to go back and ask our systems people. It's an amount that I don't have available. I've never seen that amount in terms of, from day one, who is still paying how much. I could go back and ask whether they can generate that number, and that is perhaps potentially possible.

Mr Jackson: Let's stay with the 104,000, and we'll stay with that one group. You gave us a hard number, at the press conference, as to how much additional moneys you are now collecting as a result of the preceding period of investigation. That was a hard number you gave us, and I apologize, I can't come up with that hard number. If you can help me with that, that's incredibly helpful.

Mr Costante: Sorry, I didn't bring the hard numbers with me because I didn't think we were getting into this line of questioning. The $66 million is an increased amount of savings. I can give you an example. I don't know if you brought the report with you.

Mr Jackson: I have parts of the report in front of me.

Mr Costante: On page 7 it says, "Increased number of clients receiving support payments, $2.4 million." Last year we would have collected -- I'm not sure of the exact number -- let's say $100 million, and this is how much better we're doing in the first five months of this fiscal year versus the average monthly payment being made last year. This is an increased amount. So there's a bulk that lies underneath each of these numbers, and that's that larger number.

Mr Jackson: The $2.4 million is what you're collecting back that's owed to you.

Mr Costante: That's an increase in collections.

Mr Jackson: Right, but not the total amount that's to be collected; it is what you will collect for the balance of this fiscal year.

Mr Costante: Right. Support payments, for example, the parent, the father usually, could be paying these support payments for the next 10 or 15 years. So no, we haven't built into that the next 10 or 15 years of support payments that the father would potentially be paying. It could be quite a huge amount.

Mr Jackson: Whether it was the 104,000 making repayments or it's those individuals who make up the $2.4 million of increased revenue back to the province, I wanted to know what that represented in terms of a total debt, because that would be an accounts receivable to my government, and that's what I'm looking for, that accounts receivable as a total amount.

Ms Kardos Burton: What's owing to us.

Mr Jackson: What's owing to you as a large number.

Mr Costante: We can get that.

Mr Jackson: That's what we were seeking at the press conference, and we were led to believe that the computer system couldn't cope with that.

Mr Costante: What I was asked at the press conference was the amount from day one, continuing. That, I didn't have available. If you are asking me how much is owing to us from this point forward, I think we have those numbers. I believe we may have even provided them in estimates to you, but if not, we can get them.

Ms Kardos Burton: The only thing that we don't have on those numbers are Peel and Hamilton, which are not on our computer system, but the rest we do.

Ms Proctor: Could I add another further clarification to that point too, because I'm not sure that it would be feasible for us to calculate all of the future years in relationship to, say, family support payments, and how those go on and how long those payments would be available, or future years, in terms of a lot of the work has to do with getting people who should really be getting CPP payments into that system, and we wouldn't calculate future years in relation to that kind of thing.

Mr Jackson: But we are including in here fraud cases, and we're looking at, if someone has ripped off the system for $20,000 and they're making payments back to you, as opposed to going to jail or going to court, then we should be able to determine that they owe us the $20,000. I understand that there are at least three or four categories of reasons for repayment. I know I'm running out of time.

The Vice-Chair: No, you actually have a few more minutes, but the auditor asked if he could provide a point of clarification.

Mr Peters: To help clarify the point that was just being discussed, in a little handout, Mr Jackson, that you may not have seen, that was referring to the family support plan, and you were starting to talk about this, maybe I can just add a question, the plan itself, the family support plan, has identified $275 million owing to the province. That's out of the so-called assigned cases, that is, where Comsoc has made payments to people who are receiving support from Comsoc because the spouse has defaulted.

In support of the plan, and maybe Mr Costante could shed some light on this, the plan itself has identified that in the fiscal year for 1994 they collected $43 million of this. What might clarify the situation is how the $2.4 million in the savings relates to the $43 million that was collected before. Maybe if you could clarify that for Mr Jackson, that might help.

Mr Costante: We would have taken the $43 million, divided it by 12 and calculated an average monthly payment, which would be a little less than $4 million. What we would have then done is look at how much we actually got in the first five months of the fiscal year. Let's say we were collecting $4.5 million. The savings identified here would have been the increased savings between, let's say, the $3.8 million average monthly savings last year versus the $4.5 million in the first five months of this fiscal year. It's that difference that's being shown here, not the full $43 million. Thank you for the number.

Mr Jackson: On that point, when these matters go to court, Comsoc is not represented in court. The Attorney General's office is in court enforcing SCOE, not Comsoc. In fact, when a social assistance recipient gets paid welfare because of a defaulting spouse, that money from the defaulting spouse is owed to the social assistance plan; it's not owed to Mrs Jones whose husband took off on her years ago.

I raise this with the government because I'm concerned that there's an increased number of men who are in default who are throwing themselves at the mercy of the court, saying: "You'll never get the $43,000 that I owe my ex-wife out of me. I want to go on social assistance."

I know they're right. Once they show they don't have a penny, they have the right to go on social assistance. What I'm trying to get at is, are we identifying, quantifying, the increased number of cases of write-offs of funds that are owed to you, and how are you handling those as an accounting item?

Again, I don't have my file, and I looked for it, but the Attorney General wrote me a rather lengthy letter about a specific case I took where they wrote off some $40,000 in arrears.

Her explanation to me was that this is money owed from the plan to your ministry, but it wasn't technically owed to her, so she shouldn't take it personally that the judge wrote off $40,000. It was the Attorney General who made the deal in the courtroom to write it off. The crown made the deal on behalf of the Attorney General, who's responsible for the plan because the money is owed to another portion of government. I'm sorry to use lay language, but that's exactly the situation.

What I'm asking is, how are you treating those write-offs? Are you using those as collectibles or matters resolved? I'm just very nervous about the way we would handle that. Those are moneys owed to you.

The Vice-Chair: Just before the ministry answers that question, the Legislature has risen, so our committee is supposed to adjourn. Perhaps you could give a brief response and then follow it up with a lengthier written response.

Mr Costante: I think I'm going to have to follow it up with a written response, because I also am not an accountant, and I don't know how we are treating the write-offs.

Just on a previous point, often the ministry is represented in court by our parental support workers. We are often there to represent our interests, to make sure that the ministry is getting its money back. We have steadily increased the number of parental support workers that we have in the field, because, as you know, the sole-support-parent caseload is quite a large and growing part of our caseload.

Mr Jackson: There are only two growth areas, and this is one of them, but huge dollars are involved here.

Mr Costante: I undertake to get back to you on the case of the write-offs.

Mr Jackson: I appreciate it, and I'll share with you my file and the Attorney General's lengthy letter to me with that case, because it makes it easier for me to understand.

The Vice-Chair: I'd like to thank the ministry for appearing before us today. You'll no doubt be overjoyed to know that we will be setting our agenda for the intersession at our next meeting, and it is possible you may get to come back.

The standing committee on public accounts stands adjourned till next Thursday morning at 10 o'clock.

The committee adjourned at 1201.