Nunavummiut urged to check social assistance payments after cyber strike

Nunavut's Department of Family Services is urging people on social assistance to make an appointment for this month to have their payment set straight.

After a ransomware virus crippled the Government of Nunavut's network earlier this month, Nunavummiut who rely on social assistance payments had to use food vouchers instead of a monthly cheque to buy their groceries.

The food vouchers, which look like a cheque or receipt, could be used at a local Northern or co-op store. 

The amount of money on those vouchers is based on a basic rate that was last increased in 2018. That basic rate is different for every community, and for situations like single parent or multi-family homes.

"We already knew that there would be underpayments [and] overpayments," said Yvonne Niego, deputy minister for the Department of Family Services — but she acknowledged most people will have been underpaid through the vouchers.

"For the month of November, clients would have received a voucher. That doesn't mean that that amount was what they were qualified for," said Niego.

Kieran Oudshoorn/CBC

"The reason for the vouchers was because of the crisis at hand. It was the beginning of the month. If we hadn't used the vouchers, individuals would have been waiting for months," she said.

"It's very important that they call their local income support office to make an appointment to reconcile for the month."

Social service offices in Iqaluit have had their computer system restored, and are able to use it to re-calculate payments. In the communities however, offices have had to set up a paper system.

Niego said residents in those communities who are on social assistance will have to schedule an appointment for a manual assessment.

"With the manual assessment, there will be more time needed for these appointments," she said.

That manual assessment is the same as it is every month, Niego said, so people should bring their regular documents to their appointment.

Niego warned there could be a backlog of people needing appointments, and the manual assessment takes longer.

Overpayments will have to be paid back

People who received vouchers don't have to use them up before they see the social assistance office to have their payment assessed as usual for November.

Niego said they will be paid any remaining amount they should receive for the month.

Anyone who was overpaid because of the network virus would have to pay back that amount at a maximum payment of $25 a month.

"We don't want to overpay by too much," Niego said. As of August, there were $750,000 worth of overpayments within the department, she said.

In Nunavut, 4,000 households receive income support. That's between 38 and 40 per cent of the population, Niego said. 

But there are regular delays in the system, and between 150 and 200 applications are denied each month.