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Welfare office back on track

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Ontario Works finance people will be meeting with staff here next Tuesday to go over billing changes after the local office went four working days without being able to issue cheques earlier this month.

A $100,000 loan from the province put the district’s welfare office back in business last Thursday after it hadn’t been able to pay GWA allowances to 17 clients since the previous Friday.

And at a special meeting Monday night, Fort Frances town council agreed to advance $50,000 of its $274,000 March payment to the office yesterday morning.

That should be enough to tide it over, Ontario Works director Dave Kozar said.

But Fort Frances council still is looking for answers as to why the figure it received from the Ontario Works office here is $400,000 higher than the one it received from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.

Ontario Works is saying Fort Frances’ annual levy is $1.2 million (58 percent of the district levy) while figures from the province say the town should be paying $819,000.

“These figures we have absolutely, positively no control over,” Kozar told the committee of the whole.

“I’m going to suggest that you take my numbers,” he added, warning if they didn’t, they might find themselves in the hole.

The problem revolves around the new cost-sharing agreement between the province and municipalities, combined with the fact the municipalities were just billed for their levy, explained Linda Lunny, program supervisor of Ontario Works in Kenora.

The province pays for 80 percent of the GWA, and splits evenly the administrative costs with municipalities.

But municipalities also must pay for 20 percent of the Family Benefits Allowance, along with 50 percent of the administration costs to deliver that program.

While that program was transferred over to Ontario Works on Jan. 1, the Ministry of Community and Social Services still delivers to sole-support parents who were getting the FBA prior to Jan. 1.

And rather than bill municipalities, the ministry recovers the municipal portion before it pays dollars out to the Ontario Works office. Kozar added that often left the office here owing the province rather than getting money.

“It’s pretty hard to have control over your budget when people are writing cheques against it,” noted Coun. Deane Cunningham, the town’s rep on the Ontario Works board.

“There’s a high FBA caseload in the Rainy River District,” Lunny added, with Kozar noting those figures were climbing and they didn’t know why.

Once Ontario Works starts managing the entire FBA caseload, though, things will change. Lunny said the ministry would be advancing them 80 percent of their allowances and 50 percent of their administration costs.

Bills went out to the district’s municipalities after the Ontario Works board passed its budget Feb. 25. But much has changed at the Ontario Works office. Last year, its annual budget was $744,000, with $416,000 of that for GWA.

The remainder was the municipal contribution for child welfare.

This year, its annual budget has jumped to $3.5 million. It still has $416,000 budgeted for GWA, with the remainder to cover the Family Benefits Allowance (FBA), child care, and social housing.

Meanwhile, the office here already is more than $100,000 into its overdraft. And while the province advanced the office $100,000, Lunny stressed that money had to be paid back by mid-April.

But Kozar warned the office was going to fight paying that back, stressing they blamed the province for putting them in a cash-strapped situation in the first place.

“Because this, unfortunately, isn’t going to be the end,” he warned.

In about 18 months, each Ontario Works office will be expected to upgrade its computers as the government shifts to one system across the province.

That is expected to carry a $30,000 annual bill, Kozar noted.

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