City Hall faces many challenges: some huge and headline-grabbing, like improving a strained transit system. Some much more fine-grained and less noticed—but no less essential to the residents who rely on them.
Falling into the latter category is the logistical problem of distributing social assistance to individuals who, in virtue of their very need for that assistance, may be hardest to reach. Torontonians of all backgrounds receive help from Ontario Works
, but among them are many who do not have basic logistical supports, like a bank account. Effectively supporting these people is one of the smaller-scale but persistent problems that vexes municipal governments.
Leading the way with an innovative new approach to handling this challenge: the City of Toronto, in conjunction with local company SelectCore
, provider of cashless financial services to what it describes as "underserved markets." Together this month they announced the details of a new system for delivering Ontario Works. Called the City Services Benefit Card, the smart cards will replace cheques for recipients who don't have a bank account.
It's a system that, if all goes according to plan, will benefit everyone involved: the city will save on administrative costs, recipients will save on steep cheque-cashing fees and a local company will benefit from a deal that is expected to yield between $15 and $18 million in business during its initial 42-month term.
"The City of Toronto is really leading the charge" with this system, says Derek Robertson, executive vice-president of compliance for SelectCore. It is the first city in Canada, and possibly in North America, to move to this kind of paperless system. (A few cities in the United States use debit cards, but none that Robertson knows of use what we'll have here: EMV chip cards.) Any concerns that the residents who need to use these cards might run into trouble have quickly been allayed, says Robertson; since the cards were introduced in mid-July, the company "has not experienced a significant spike of customer service calls."
The company currently has about 50 staff, including some recently hired new information technology and account management staff to meet the demands of the partnership with Toronto. It will be, Robertson hopes, the first of many public sector contracts, as governments increasingly look to streamline their operations.
Writer: Hamutal Dotan
Source: Derek Robertson, Executive Vice-President of Compliance, SelectCore