The Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) program exists to help Albertans with disabilities support themselves and their families. Run by the Department of Human Services, AISH provides eligible applicants with financial and health benefits. The main financial benefit is a monthly living allowance of up to $1,588, although there are also other benefits available, such as support for childcare and children’s education.
The AISH program serves over 50,000 Albertans by providing almost $1 billion in benefits annually. It is the second largest program Human Services delivers, administered by approximately 330 staff and having an annual operating cost of $33 million.
What we examined
We examined the department’s systems and processes for ensuring the program is easily accessible to eligible Albertans and how it applies clearly defined criteria in compliance with legislation and policy when making eligibility decisions.
We looked at the entire application process, starting with the application form, channels of connecting an applicant to the program, and the intake process. We examined the various systems related to initial eligibility decisions, from the department’s systems to monitor the processing of applications to the systems that impact initial eligibility decisions.
We also examined the department’s systems to measure, monitor and report on key activities of the program.
The department is unable to demonstrate that the AISH program is efficient. The AISH application process favours people who are good at completing forms and are persistent. Assessing eligibility takes too long, and the department cannot be sure its staff’s decisions are consistent. With its existing reporting process, the department does not know what it needs to change to improve the program.
What we found
Our findings fall into three areas:
- access to the AISH program through the existing intake process is complex and is not supported by user-friendly guidance and resources
- the department does not have standards to regularly monitor its application processing times against
- AISH workers have to use considerable judgment in their assessment of applications and receive inadequate training and guidance
- the department treats applicants and clients differently in respect to “earning a livelihood”
- the department has inadequate performance measures and processes to monitor and report onthe operating efficiency of the AISH program
What needs to be done
The department should:
- ensure its application processes are user friendly
- set service standards for application processing times and regularly monitor against these standards
- improve procedures and guidelines to ensure staff apply policy in a consistent manner
- improve its processes to measure, monitor and report on the efficiency of the AISH program
Why this is important to Albertans
When someone has a disability that limits their ability to work, they need income to meet their basic needs. If the department does not have systems to ensure AISH workers consider applications in a consistent and timely manner, there is a risk that the people who need support do not receive it, or receive it too late.