Program tracked welfare payments
The program, which began in September, 1999, allowed investigators to check for duplication going back to 1996, said an eligibility review officer with Sudbury Social Services, which administers Ontario Works.
Kimberly Rogers, 40, was eight months pregnant and halfway through a six-month house-arrest sentence for welfare fraud when her body was found in August, 2001. An inquest jury has to decide whether her death was accidental or a suicide, and whether the administration of Ontario's welfare and justice systems played a part.
"I received an allegation through the MET (ministry of employment and training) that Kimberly Rogers was attending a post-secondary institution and had been since 1996," Carmen Marleau-Woitowich testified.
She checked and found that Rogers was at Cambrian College and in October, 1999 she terminated Rogers' social assistance. "She was a full-time student at an institution not approved by Ontario Works," Marleau-Woitowich explained. At that point, Rogers' case went into abeyance pending calculation of overpayment and other files took higher priority, she said.
But in May, 2000, after graduating from Cambrian with a social services diploma, Rogers applied to go back on welfare. That brought her file back to the top of the pile, for a calculation of the overpayment and arrangements for restitution.
Marleau-Woitowich determined that in 1996-99, when Rogers received $32,672 in student loans, she had obtained in excess of $13,468.31 from Ontario Works. Ten per cent of Rogers' $520-a-month welfare payment was withheld to start paying the amount back.
Marleau-Woitowich said that for amounts involving less than $5,000, no further action would have been taken. But an in-house policy required that she refer higher amounts to the police, and as a result Rogers was charged criminally with fraud.
Marleau-Woitowich said she never had any personal contact with Rogers until the trial date in April, 2001, when the investigator was expected to be a witness. No trial was held because Rogers pleaded guilty. Marleau-Woitowich's only participation was to advise the judge of the consequences of a conviction, namely a three-month suspension of her welfare benefits.
Those convicted of fraud committed since April, 2000, face a lifetime ban.
The inquest continues.