A new report from Alberta’s auditor general Doug Wylie released Wednesday is calling for better reporting and monitoring to make sure the Income Support program is doing what it should.
The department of community and social services, which runs the Income Support program, does not have adequate processes to ensure that eligible clients are receiving supports in accordance with its policy and to measure and report on the performance of the program, the report says.
“With the adverse economic climate in Alberta over the past few years, the department’s primary focus has been on ensuring Albertans in need receive prompt financial support,” Wylie said in a Wednesday news release.
Over the past three years, the program has seen a 44 per cent increase in the average caseload. In 2017-18, the program provided over $663 million in support payments to vulnerable Albertans. In the latest provincial budget, the indexation of Income Support was paused, meaning payments would not increase with the rising cost of living, but benefits were not rolled back or cut.
“However, if the program is not managed effectively, it increases the risk that clients who need support may not receive it, or that some clients may receive support payments to which they are not entitled.”
“Albertans need the assurance that the amount of money invested in the program is both appropriate and well spent, and that it is making a difference,” Wylie said.
Income Support is the third largest program the department delivers, needing about 580 staff members and with annual program planning and delivery costs of $169.8 million. Applicants are adults looking for work, working but not earning enough to meet their basic needs, temporarily unable to work, or with multiple barriers to employment.
The auditor’s review did not find evidence that the department had always completed a Service Needs Determination or an Employability Assessment for clients, or follow through with client service plans.
If the program is not managed effectively, Albertans who need support to help them meet their basic needs — food, clothing, and shelter — or re-enter the workforce may not receive the assistance they need and may have challenges rejoining the workforce. Others may receive support payments they are not entitled to or after they no longer need the support, the report says.
The internal audit found client files with incomplete or improperly completed applications, missing required information, and unsubstantiated support payments.
Meanwhile, the auditor called on Travel Alberta to better manage the risks around its use of cloud computing according to a second report that details how the tourism agency potentially exposes itself to data loss, privacy breaches and business interruptions.
Travel Alberta was an early adopter of cloud computing in 2011, before policies could be developed by the government. By 2016, the practice of using the Internet to process, manage and store data remotely was adopted for most of the agency’s data, including financial records.
“Cloud computing can offer service improvements and a more cost-efficient level than traditional IT systems, but as data travels over the Internet and is housed in the cloud, it could potentially expose sensitive data to unauthorized users,” Wylie said in a release.
The report found that the agency had no way to assess, respond, monitor, report and document the risks associated with its use of cloud computing.
Locally and abroad, Travel Alberta could be exposed to legal and reputational risk if the data is compromised, and the report recommended incorporating specific business requirements in the contracts with its cloud service providers and regularly monitor for compliance.
The reports were tabled by the chairman of the standing committee on legislative offices, Mike Ellis, MLA for Calgary-West, in the legislature Wednesday afternoon.