Understaffing at Special Services at Home leaves families in financial distress
Toronto families of children with developmental or physical disabilities are waiting up to nine weeks to be reimbursed for respite care, day camps, life skills programs and other extraordinary expenses due to a backlog at the Special Services at Home office of the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Families who are approved for these expenses pay out-of-pocket and then submit invoices for reimbursement.
The delay in payments is due to short-staffing. There are not enough financial officers and clerks to process the invoices in a timely manner, leaving many families in financial distress.
OPSEU members care about the people we serve. If your family is experiencing financial distress due to a late payment from the Special Services at Home office, please contact your Member of Provincial Parliament’s constituency office and ask them for assistance. While we hope for a speedy resolution to this backlog, your MPP may be able to help you get your payment more quickly in the meantime.
OPSEU President Warren (Smokey) Thomas has written a letter to the Minister of Community and Social Services, Hon. Helena Jaczek, informing her of the situation.
Please see the letter below:
July 13, 2017
Hon. Helena Jaczek
Minister of Community and Social Services
6th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
I’m writing to you today about an issue of urgent concern to OPSEU members who work for the Special Services at Home (SSAH) program in the Toronto region and the families they serve. I am copying Toronto area MPPs on this letter to inform them as well about the situation in case they get inquiries from their constituents.
As you know, SSAH is a vital program that helps families of children with developmental or physical disabilities living at home to pay for expenses such as respite care, community activities, day camps, child development programs, special needs workers, and life skills programs. Families depend on this program to help them with extraordinary expenses that they often wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.
Once approved for these expenses, families pay out-of-pocket for the services and then submit invoices to the SSAH office for payment. The guidelines indicate that invoices are to be processed and paid within 30 business days. Typical processing times are usually 2-4 weeks.
Unfortunately, for the past few months in the Toronto region, there has been such a large backlog on processing invoices that families are waiting up to 9 weeks to be reimbursed for amounts that sometimes run into thousands of dollars.
The overwhelming majority of calls my members are receiving at work these days are from clients calling to check up on their invoices. They are hearing from clients who are being served eviction notices, have overdue credit card bills, and whose respite and other service providers have had to stop working with their children – all because they are not receiving their payments on time.
There is one reason only for this delay: there are too few people processing the invoices. In Toronto, there is only one temporary Financial Officer entering new clients into the system and processing their invoices, and one permanent Financial Clerk processing invoices. Recently, a temp agency employee has been brought in as a second Financial Clerk to help with the backlog, but it has hardly made a dent. Families are still waiting.
The good news is that there is an easy solution to the problem. The SSAH program needs at least four permanent financial staff – Financial Officers and Financial Clerks – to ensure that invoices are paid to families on time. OPSEU has brought this issue forward to the Ministry Employee Relations Committee table over the past few months, to no avail. So I am writing directly to you, Minister, to ask for your intervention on behalf of these families and our members who serve them.
Currently, families can get their invoices paid faster by contacting their MPP and asking for their help. When an MPP intervenes, that family’s file is moved to the top of the pile and gets paid. But this kind of squeaky-wheel crisis management is not the way to run a program as important as this one. All families need to be reimbursed in a timely manner.
I would ask you as Minister to direct the Toronto office of the Special Services at Home program to hire the permanent staff they need to process invoices in a timely manner and to ensure that this kind of backlog does not occur again. It is an easy fix, and families of children with developmental and physical disabilities depend on it.
I would be happy to meet with you to discuss this matter further.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Warren (Smokey) Thomas
Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Premier
Patrick Brown, Leader of the Opposition
Andrea Horwath, Leader of the NDP
Lisa Gretzky, MPP, Windsor West
Randy Pettapiece, MPP, Perth-Wellington
Laura Albanese, MPP, York South-Weston
Yvan Baker, MPP, Etobicoke Centre
Lorenzo Bernardinetti, MPP, Scarborough Southwest
Raymond Sung Joon Cho, MPP, Scarborough-Rouge River
Mike Colle, MPP, Eglinton-Lawrence
Hon. Michael Coteau, MPP, Don Valley East, Minister of Children and Youth Services
Cheri DiNovo, MPP, Parkdale-High Park
Han Dong, MPP, Trinity-Spadina
Hon. Brad Duguid, MPP, Scarborough Centre
Hon. Mitzie Hunter, MPP, Scarborough-Guildwood
Monte Kwinter, MPP, York Centre
Hon. Tracy MacCharles, MPP, Pickering-Scarborough East
Cristina Martins, MPP, Davenport
Peter Milczyn, MPP, Etobicoke-Lakeshore
Hon. Glen R. Murray, MPP, Toronto Centre
Arthur Potts, MPP, Beaches-East York
Shafiq Qaadri, MPP, Etobicoke North
Mario Sergio, MPP, York West
Peter Tabuns, MPP, Toronto-Danforth
Soo Wong, MPP, Scarborough-Agincourt
Hon. David Zimmer, MPP, Willowdale