no living, city official testifies as inquest winds down
The province provides $325 of $520 in monthly welfare benefits for single persons towards housing, but Harold Duff confirmed the Greater City of Sudburys website lists the average monthly rent for a one bedroom apartment at around $500 a month.
Accommodation is a flat rate of $325, Duff testified. All allowance structures are determined by the province.
The $325 rate for accommodation and $520 monthly cheque are universal no matter where you live in Ontario, said Duff.
The average monthly rent for a Sudbury bachelor apartment is just under $400, again well above the amount handed out by the province, Duff acknowledged.
Duff spent a second full day on the witness stand at the coroners inquest into the death of Kimberly Rogers, 40.
Rogers was sentenced April 25, 2001 to six months of house arrest, 18 months probation and ordered to pay restitution after pleading guilty to collecting $13,5000 in welfare benefits while collecting $32,000 in student loans between 1996 and 1999.
Rogers died from an overdose of anti-depressants. She suffered from chronic depression, migraines, panic attacks, insomnia and physical pain following 1997 knee surgery.
Her body was found in her West End apartment the morning of Aug. 9, 2001. A pathologist has told the inquest he believes she died Aug. 6 or 7.
The inquest has heard that after Rogers was convicted of welfare fraud, her benefits were automatically suspended for three months. However, a successful court challenge resulted in her benefits being reinstated at the end of May.
Sudbury social services clawed back 10 per cent of her monthly $520 cheque, leaving her with $468 a month. Her rent was $450, but her landlord had agreed to reduce it to $300 because Rogers was so badly in arrears and in such dire financial difficulty.
Duff told the jury one month before Rogers died, his department sent her a letter demanding she show up to meet a case worker because her file had been flagged by staff as a high risk file.
Her file was considered high risk because she had listed her rent at $450 a month and his office knew her cheque was only $468 a month, said Duff.
The letter stated Rogers should attend a scheduled meeting to discuss her file and should not miss the meeting under any circumstances.
His office had attempted to contact Rogers on numerous occasions and she didnt respond and this was the reason for the strong wording in the letter, said Duff.
We went to this format because people dont show up for appointments, he said.
Duff agreed the strongly worded letter could cause some concern to Rogers that her benefits were in jeopardy of being suspended once again.
Under cross-examination, Duff also agreed the file on Rogers didnt include any mention of repeated phone calls by her case worker to get Rogers into the office to answer some questions.
The inquest has heard that because Rogers was found guilty of welfare fraud before April 1, 2000, her benefits were automatically suspended for three months. Any similar conviction after this date would result in a lifetime ban on benefits.
Duff agreed a lifetime ban on a single person would be devastating.
However, he noted Ontario Works is a program designed to get clients trained towards finding employment, off the system and towards self-sufficiency.
Anyone relying on the system for an extended period of time would have great difficulty making ends meet, said Duff.
When Rogers and her lawyers launched the court challenge to have her benefits reinstated, the city knew about it, but didnt oppose for a variety of reasons, said Duff.
The costs of hiring legal counsel were strongly considered and it was the feeling of management the city would abide by the court decision, said Duff.
We decided we would wait for the decision of the court and abide by that decision, he said.
In his job as director of social services and chief administrator of Ontario Works, hes required by law to report any suspicion of welfare fraud, said Duff.
Since Rogers death, a review process has been put in place, but ultimately if theres enough proof for a file to proceed, all welfare fraud complaints over $5,000 are still forwarded to police, he said.
The inquest will resume the week of Nov. 18. The inquest is expected to hear from six or seven more witnesses.
two-man jury is expected to take about two weeks to come up with recommendations.