Jen Henderson is a journalist breaking news in the capital region. She is a staff reporter at the St. Albert Gazette and  covers provincial and federal politics, crime and court. 

Auditor General report finds flaws in AISH program

Alberta’s auditor general report has found the aid program for the severely handicapped to be inefficient and difficult to access.

On Monday, auditor general Merwan Saher issued a report criticizing the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program as inefficient and inconsistent.

Barrhead-Morinville-Westlock MLA Glenn van Dijken agrees that the AISH program has flaws and has seen the issues first hand in his constituency.

The program provides a living allowance for people who are severely handicapped and unable to work.

The report said the program has a difficult intake process, and that online resources for applications were hard to find. The most successful candidates are the ones who are best able to fill out forms or who are persistent.

“Applications are available, but the process tends to lend itself more to those individuals who are more competent in filling out forms,” van Dijken said. “So there is some concern there that there needs to be possibly a little bit more fine tuning within the processes to assure that the people that are in need are able to access the program.”

Along with difficulty accessing the program, the report found that determining a candidate’s eligibility takes too long and that “the department cannot be sure its staff’s decisions are consistent.”

On average, it takes 203 days for the program to begin after the date the department receives the application.

The findings show that employees who had little training were making decisions. The department was not able to prove that the staff members had adequate training to provide an “efficient delivery of services.”

Many of the flaws in the system can be highlighted through the appeal process. Fifty per cent of applications that are filed are originally denied but 42 per cent of those who submit additional information or fight the original ruling with an appeal will end up on the program.

The average annual cost of the appeal process is approximately $2 million.

“We will act on his recommendations to ensure that recipients of AISH will have improved access to this program and that wait times for approval will be reduced,” President of Treasury Board and Minister of Finance Joe Ceci said in an official government response to the audit. “Our departments continue to work to ensure the successful implementation of the Auditor General’s outstanding recommendations.”

The AISH program has 330 employees that help provide around $1 billion in benefits annually to more than 50,000 Albertans.

The program falls under the Human Services umbrella and has an annual operating cost of $33 million.

Along with criticizing the AISH program, Saher found issues in the oversight of the Agriculture Financial Services Corporation lending program.

This is not the first time the program has come under fire. In June the minister of agriculture removed the board and three senior executives after an internal audit found that they were accepting gifts from vendors.

This week’s report recommends that the Department of Agriculture and Forestry and Agriculture Financial Services Corporation work to “define the strategic objectives of the lending program, define the oversight responsibilities of both parties in relation to the lending program and to develop a funding model that promotes accountability for the results of the program.”

The report also found that three legislative committees needed more transparent financial reporting, Athabasca College’s weakness in implementing the software and IT programs and the need to clarify the process for selecting sole-sourced contractors.

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