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COUNTY OF SIMCOE ITEM FOR: HUMAN SERVICES COMMITTEE SECTION: Ontario Works Department ITEM NO. HS 09-058 MEETING DATE: April 14, 2009 SUBJECT: Request for Additional Ontario Works Staff RECOMMENDATION: THAT approval be given to hire up to 4 temporary Caseworkers, through the use of social assistance reserves due to the impact of the current economic downturn on the Ontario Works caseload, as outlined in Item HS 09-058; AND THAT the Warden be directed to write to the Province requesting that both the provincial review related to Cost of Administration Funding for Ontario Works and the upload of the municipal 20% share of Ontario Works Benefits to the Province be expedited due to the increased demand in Ontario Works as a result of the current economic downturn. BACKGROUND: The Ontario Works caseload has been increasing significantly in the last few months. In reviewing statistics, the caseload increased from 4,718 in January 2008 to 5,418 in January 2009, which is a 15% increase. In February of 2009 the caseload increased to 5,733 which is approximately 18% above the February 2008 caseload of 4,843. Current numbers indicate that the present economic downturn is having a greater impact on social services than was originally anticipated so early on in the recession and as such, staff is seeing a significant increase in overall workload pressures across the department. At present, current resources are being stretched across all units within Ontario Works in order to meet the demand for applications for social assistance and to ensure that applications are processed in a timely manner. However, current measures can only remain in place on a temporary basis as the reassignment of staff duties impacts other areas of Ontario Works operations, such as supports for vulnerable clients who require assistance to access a disability benefit, or the work done by staff who conduct reviews of files to confirm that a client meets the ongoing eligibility requirements for Ontario Works. In addition, the work performed by other areas of Ontario Works operations are linked to Ministry targets which could result in funding implications should targets not be achieved. Caseworkers have traditionally spent approximately 50% of their work week completing new applications and 50% of their work week managing their caseload, which includes returning phone calls, meeting with existing clients to update their files, completing paperwork to ensure appropriate benefit amounts are issued and ensuring Ministry standards are met. The 50% time available to caseworkers to manage their caseloads was accomplished through the intake schedule, which allowed for a high level of applicants who do not show up for their original appointment (no-shows). In early 2009 staff made a number of workload adjustments in an April 14, 2009 Human Services Committee HS 09-058 Page 2 attempt to keep up with the demand for social assistance applications. Adjustments to workload included increasing the number of verification appointments from 8 to 9 per week for each caseworker, and redeploying staff within the Employment Services Unit, Eligibility Review Fraud, Quality Assurance and Consolidated Verification Process Units to assist with the completion of applications. In addition, in order to reduce the no-show rate, which results in numerous re-bookings and delays in service, clerical support staff has been utilized to contact applicants to remind them of their appointment times. This has resulted in a decrease in no-shows from 29% to 10%, which has been successful in assisting staff in catching up with new appointments and meeting Ministry standards with respect to offering appointments within 4 days. However, with fewer no-shows, in addition to increased applications booked per week, caseworkers now have less time to spend on case management duties during a time when caseloads are growing. This is resulting in delays in returning calls, completing paperwork, issuing funds, and meeting ongoing Ministry standards. These delays create poor customer service and actually create additional work for other areas as clients look to other staff or a supervisor to respond to their inquiries. This additional work is also a duplication of work in many instances, as the new staff member or supervisor now has to become familiar with the issue or concern that the original caseworker would already be familiar with. The chart below provides a comparison of verification appointments booked from January and February 2007-2009 across the County. A comparison from February 2008-2009 shows that 983 appointments were booked in February 2008, while in February 2009, 1,151 appointments were booked which is an increase of 17%. Current figures are not yet available for the month of March 2009 but it is anticipated that the demand for verification appointments will continue to increase in the months ahead, not to mention continued increases in caseloads as participants may remain on social assistance for longer periods of time due to a lack of available employment opportunities at this time. Number of Verification Interviews Booked 2007-2009 2007 2008 2009 1,200 800 # of VI's 400 0 Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Month As mentioned earlier in the report, caseloads have increased 18% from February 2008 to February 2009, which represents an increase of 900 cases. Given the amount of time caseworkers spend on completing new applications for assistance, staff believe an ideal worker caseload ratio is April 14, 2009 Human Services Committee HS 09-058 Page 3 between 100 and 110. However, as of February 2008, caseworkers were averaging close to 140 cases. The Clerical Support Unit has also seen workload increases. The Integrated Services Unit which is a call centre that screens applications for social assistance as well as childcare fee subsidy screened 1,946 calls in February 2008, while 2,332 calls were screened in February 2009, which is an increase of approximately 20%. As previously mentioned, a number of measures have been taken to utilize existing resources to meet the current workload demands. Discussions have taken place with the local Ministry office requesting that consideration be given to reduce or suspend target requirements in a number of areas across the Ontario Works program. One area worth noting is within the Consolidated Verification Process which is a function whereby 6 Caseworkers are assigned to complete an auditing process of client files. In the past this grouping of staff has been utilized periodically throughout the year to assist with verification interviews in conjunction with their auditing duties. However, the Consolidation Verification Process is tied directly to Ministry targets and should targets not be realized funding in the amount of $227K would be in jeopardy. In addition, as caseloads increase, the necessity of keeping this auditing function in place becomes even more important. Another area that is target driven is Outcome Funding which is tied to the Employment Services Unit. Outcome funding targets focus on three core areas being employment, increased earnings and increased employability. Although there is some flexibility regarding the negotiating of outcome targets, Employment Services staff need to be focusing on getting those who are unemployed into retraining, educational upgrading and apprenticeship programs so that when better economic times prevail, Ontario Works participants will be in a good position to compete for future employment opportunities. The temporary redeployment of Employment Services staff to complete verification interviews is taking staff away from yet another important core function that is tied to targets and has funding implications. Simcoe County has experienced an economic downturn much faster than was anticipated. According to the 2009 Simcoe County Training Board’s Trends Opportunities and Priorities report, Simcoe County has seen a significant impact regarding the numerous business closures, job losses and lay-offs, particularly in the manufacturing and auto sector. Traditionally these jobs have been higher paying and as such layed off workers are finding themselves in a very difficult financial situation. Unfortunately, Ontario Works is seeing many of these individuals accessing social services while pending employment insurance benefits, only to find out that the limited assistance Ontario Works provides clearly does not meet their financial need. Furthermore, many of these individuals will need to look into specific upgrading and retraining as new skills will need to be developed as it is anticipated that many of the lost jobs may not be available even after economic recovery. Another area which is covered in the Simcoe County Training Board report is the necessity to provide resourcing for skilled trade development. Areas such as personal care workers, tourism/hospitality, telecommunications are just a few areas within Simcoe County that are experiencing staffing shortages and it is anticipated that these areas will continue to grow in the years ahead. Ontario Works has established partnerships with a number of service sectors and based on current economic times, a shift in priorities needs to focus on providing Ontario Works April 14, 2009 Human Services Committee HS 09-058 Page 4 participants access to a wide variety of programming options that focus on identified skilled work shortages within Simcoe County. A recent Information Alert that was released by the Ontario Municipal Social Services Association indicates that current information is showing that a further declining economy has had a significant impact on unemployment rates within the Province of Ontario. The report indicated that according to Statistics Canada, in January 2009, 560,400 Canadians received regular Employment Insurance Benefits which is an increase of 23,000 or 4.4 percent from December, after seasonal adjustment. For the Province of Ontario, this meant that 181,510 people which represented a 6 percent increase from December, and almost a 43 percent increase from the previous year, had accessed Employment Insurance Benefits since early 2008. It is important to keep in mind that unless there is a significant economic recovery within the next year, many individuals who are currently on Employment Insurance Benefits may need to access services offered by Ontario Works once their Employment Insurance Benefits expire. It is therefore imperative that ongoing monitoring of caseloads and adjustments to workload within Ontario Works continue to be a priority and the increasing of temporary staff will better position Ontario Works to manage the current workload pressures. FINANCIAL ANALYSIS: At the time the 2009 budget was prepared the addition of two Caseworkers was included in Ontario Works based on the anticipated need at that time. It was not known at the time of budget deliberations just how quickly the economic downturn would affect Ontario Works. The cost of administration is to be cost shared 50/50. However because of the Ministry cap, it was anticipated at the time the 2009 budget was completed that the amount of provincial funding received towards cost of administration would be closer to 36% than 50%. Staff is requesting that approval be given to hire up to four additional temporary caseworkers for the balance of 2009. The hiring of these additional staff would address some of the current workload pressures being felt across the department. As additional Ministry funding is not currently available, the hiring of up to four additional caseworkers would need to be 100% municipally funded. It is anticipated that if approved, the additional staff would not be in place until June 1st, due to the time required to recruit. The cost to hire four additional caseworkers would be $72k annually which includes salary and benefits x 4 = $288k / 12 months x 7 months which totals 168K for the balance of 2009. The 168k would further be cost shared between the City of Barrie and the City of Orillia, with the County’s share being approximately 46% or approximately 77k. Currently there is $200k in social services reserve funding which could support this need. Staff will continue to monitor caseload trends and economic impact throughout 2009 and report as appropriate. Staff will also investigate all options to address the increased caseload. SCHEDULES: There are no schedules attached to this item April 14, 2009 Human Services Committee HS 09-058 Page 5 PREPARED BY: Jamie Moran, Director, Ontario Works APPROVALS: Date Terry Talon, General Manager, Social Services April 2, 2009 Craig Elliott, General Manager, Finance & Administration April 2, 2009 Mark Aitken, Chief Administrative Officer April 5, 2009
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