Thoughts and Opinions On Today's Important Issues

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Has The Obliging Blogosphere Been Silenced

The sycophants, cheerleaders and lapdogs think that they have won. Those obsequious and fawning hangers-on must think that they are all-powerful and can silence anyone.

It's true. We bloggers, conspiracy theorists, sound-off twits, Windsor haters and small-town axe grinders just cannot compare with those who think their views will shape what Windsorites think.

Do you remember the Star headline and photo. Maybe it is just me, but I found it absolutely offensive and disgraceful.
A slur!

I have a copy of it but chose NOT to post it.

It showed a big smile on the face of Ms Warsh under a headline that the City is overpaying people by over $530K per month (over $6M a year) in this time of fiscal restraint. No Windsor Blogger that I know would be that rude and run such a headline and photo as the Star did. Ms Warsh ought to be furious and outraged since a good part of Windsor would have seen this unlike the relatively few who read BLOGs by comparison.

If a Blogger did it, why then the doo-doo would hit the fan...but if the Star does it, not a peep or if there was, that story was not covered and reported.

It's not a new story as you shall see below. It has been around for awhile and yet, what has been done about it by the Mayor and Council? Who is asking the questions about it? Why is Ms Warsh being left to hang out to dry?

Sure the Province's system seems defective based on Auditor General comments and a lot of money has been overpaid across the Province. However, which Councillor will ask for a report on this subject for Windsor to understand the situation here.

I trust such a report will cover topics such as this:

1) It is claimed that:

  • "Windsor is paying out $530,000 each month in overpayments to Ontario Works recipients, managers overseeing the welfare program told the city’s audit committee on Thursday.

    But a major portion of those funds is linked to filling the gap for those unemployed until they can collect their employment insurance — generally a lag of up to two months, claimed Ronna Warsh, the city’s Community Development and Health Commissioner."

How can that be an "overpayment?" It is more in the nature of an advance that will be paid back directly from EI once the EI benefits kick in.

I saw this comment on the Toronto website that deals with assignment of EI funds.

  • "EXAMPLE – Employment Insurance (EI)

    You apply for EI in March. In April you apply for Ontario Works benefits because you need help while Service Canada is processing your EI claim.

    If you are eligible for Ontario Works benefits, an assignment form will be completed. In May, Service Canada tells you that you are eligible for EI as of the date that you applied in March. The assignment means that your EI payments will begin, but will be reduced until the money you received from Employment and Social Services for April and May is repaid. When that amount is repaid, the EI payments you receive will increase."

How much of that $530K is what I would classify as an "advance?" Is the problem as big as it seems or is there something we are missing and not being told? It sounds to me that in reality not much is overpaid.

I ask this because this comment in the story makes little sense to me:

  • "In our case, a number of individuals receive Ontario Works while waiting for Employment Insurance to kick in. Anything they receive becomes an overpayment. It’s evident across the province these overpayments happen.”

Is there no assignment to the City of the EI funds? If so, then the amount at risk ought to be minimal and thus, the Star story is unfair to Ms Warsh.

2) I wonder what the amount of overpayment was previously:

  • "Warsh indicated the city in the last five years has gradually improved oversight of Ontario Works recipients — thanks to better computer software and greater staff efforts.

    “We are getting better and better in terms of training staff and ensuring policies are in place (to crack down on fraudulent claims),” she said.

    Reports are reviewed on a daily basis, Piruzza added."

If they are reviewed daily, then how can the amounts get that high without alarm bells going off one might ask? Perhaps the amounts before were huge and this is a vast improvement. We don't know.

  • "The audit assessed oversight for the program and concluded there has only been “limited improvement” in the administration of the Ontario Works program in recent years.

    “It remains our view that the ministry still has inadequate assurance that only eligible individuals receive financial assistance and in the correct amount,” said the report’s summary."

Hmmm, does this mean that the Cities and towns across the Province are not doing their job properly re initial eligibility? Is Windsor one of those places?

3) What steps have been taken over the past 5 years to improve operations and why is it only being done "gradually?" That does not make much sense to me if money is being overpaid.

As an example, in 2005:

  • "A flawed provincial computer system allowed a case worker in the city's social services department to create a fictitious client whose welfare cheques were deposited into her personal bank account, city officials say...

    City auditor Mike Dunbar said the fraud was discovered "totally by accident"

    ...The city has not been able to go back into the records to look for other abuses, Dunbar said, because the "system is so bad that it cannot generate the reports that we would need to be able to tell..."

    Warsh said Windsor is looking for a way to change the system so that cases with peculiar circumstances are brought to the attention of a supervisor.

    "We're running reports daily to look for anomalies in terms of one-time cheques or other anomalies that you might find in a report," Warsh said. "We're doing more now than we did in the past."

    The City of Windsor will also "be talking to the province" about ways "to tighten those controls," Warsh said."

So what has been gradually improved? Has the system been changed? Ms. Piruzza said "Reports are reviewed on a daily basis" yet there is still about $6M of overpayments. Something is not working it seems or is it compared with the past? Again, we lack information to make a decision.

4) With respect to fraudulent claims, how good is the City? How many alleged fraudulent claims have there been and how many convictions have been obtained in the last 5 years.

I saw this statistic:

  • "Over a four-year period beginning in 1998, more than 2,200 allegations of social assistance fraud were investigated by the city's social services department, with 14 resulting in convictions."

With all of these improvements, how good, or bad, are the numbers now?

5) Respecting overpayments, how much of it is the City recovering:

  • "Getting the money back once an overpayment has been confirmed is another problem, especially if the claim is no longer active.

    “Letters are sent out, but getting the money is difficult,” Piruzza said."

Is there staff dedicated to getting money back? Are they doing this or are they assigned other tasks that take up their day because of cutbacks for instance?

I noted that Hamilton talked about doing more to collect money back:

  • "The city is now planning to hire a collection agency..

    But she said the city must get better at collecting what it is owed.

    "This is a priority. This is people's tax dollars"

Has Windsor thought of that?

Toronto proposed to "to transfer and/or assign applicable delinquent overpayment accounts under the Ontario Works Act to the Provincial Overpayment Recovery Unit for collection."

Can Windsor do that?

I wonder how much has been written off and what the criteria are for doing so.

6) Back in 2005, I saw this in a Council meeting:

  • "That Council RECEIVE and endorse the 20 Ontario Works policies and procedures developed to support the approved service delivery model enhancements and to promote delivery consistency."

Are these policies and procedures working? Are employees following them? Or are they being revised and if so, how long will it take to get the new system out there?

Quite a fascinating subject don't you think with lots of taxpayer money at risk that could be used to lower taxes or for who knows what!

It should be interesting to see what the reaction to the Overpayment story will be or will it just disappear, a one day wonder as it seems to have become already.

Will one of the Star columnists do a follow-up story? Will a reporter do some digging? Will the Audit Committee care?

I saw this article in December in the Star and now it is almost the beginning of March and what has been done by anyone:

  • "The city’s financial watchdogs will determine if a local review is needed after Ontario Auditor General Jim McCarter identified Tuesday about $1.2 billion of overpayments and fraud in welfare and disability support programs across the province.

    With Windsor and Essex County taxpayers paying $35 million annually to Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program, the stakes are high enough to assess whether rampant abuse provincially has spread to this community, officials said.

    The local caseload for welfare is 9,500 welfare and there are 8,500 disability recipients.

    “To the extent the auditor general of Ontario found problems provincially, I think city administration will want to take a serious look, get more details and see if any of those issues are prevalent in Windsor,” said treasurer Onorio Colucci."

Has a serious look been taken or is it all considered a joke by our Administration? Geez, I can just hear the excuse: "We would have done something by now but we are still catching up after the 101 day work stoppage." It is NOT be fair to Ms Warsh to have her left hanging like this given the latest Star story.

I guess that it will it be left to a mere lonely Blogger to ask the questions that need answering and demand another investigation.