Province's move to hire fraud investigators angers social assistance recipients

·2 min read

Some people living on social assistance say they're angry the Ontario government is hiring fraud inspectors instead of answering their calls for more help during the pandemic.

"It's like a kick to the teeth," said Jessica-Faye Watters, who receives assistance through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and has been advocating with other recipients for more resources during the pandemic.

They will spend [money] on anything other than actually helping the people ODSP is designed to help. - Jessica-Faye Watters, ODSP recipient and advocate

"It's one thing going through the pandemic almost basically being ignored, but then to hear the fact that they're hiring these investigators that are going to paid more than anyone on ODSP ... it's just insane to me," Watters said.

The province has posted an employment ad for 17 "program integrity analysts." According to the job description, successful applicants can expect to "conduct case audits," investigate "program integrity" and "liaise with counsel and law enforcement where social assistance fraud is alleged and act as expert witness."

The salary is between $1,282.89 and $1,635.89 per week for the one-year temporary positions, "with a possibility of extension."

Government of Ontario
Government of Ontario

NDP questions priorities

This week, Lisa Gretzky, the NDP's community and social services critic, denounced the expenditure.

"That's $1.5 million that could help people on ODSP, rather than trying to kick people off their crucial support during the pandemic," the Windsor West MPP said at Queen's Park.

In an email, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services said the decision to hire investigators addresses concerns layed out by Ontario Auditor General Bonnie Lysyk in a 2019 review of the ODSP program.

The AG's report noted approximately 42,000 fraud allegations had not been investigated on time, with 60 per cent backlogged more than a year.

"Timely reviews of these allegations are critical to identifying and minimizing overpayments," wrote Lysyk.

Case workers will no longer investigate fraud allegations because it "reduces the amount of time they have to work with their clients, including helping them access life-stabilizing support," the ministry said.

'It's been a nightmare'

ODSP recipients and their advocates using the hashtag #ODSPoverty on social media have been calling on the province to boost benefits during the pandemic, particularly for those who don't qualify for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which pays about $2,000 per month. Single individuals on ODSP get a maximum of $1,169 per month.

Watters, who suffers from an immune system disorder after contracting H1N1 more than a decade ago, said many people with disabilities have been housebound because of their vulnerability to more severe illness from COVID-19, and are having to pay more for everything from ordering groceries to transportation to personal protective equipment.

"It's been a nightmare," said Watters. "They will spend it on anything other than actually helping the people ODSP is designed to help."