FREDERICTON (GNB) – A report tabled today by acting auditor general Janice Leahy includes an audit of the New Brunswick Workers’ Emergency Income Benefit program. This program was developed by the Department of Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour to provide one-time funding of $900 for those whose income was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic closures until the federal aid program launched.

While the program successfully provided about $37 million in aid to over 40,000 New Brunswickers, the audit found poor controls, a weak contract and inadequate monitoring. Overall, planning for future provincial emergency benefit response programs needs improvement.

“Timely risk assessment and strong fraud prevention strategies can strengthen the overall control structure of programs, something we would hope to see for a program of this size,” said Leahy.

The audit found there was no program risk assessment, and while controls were in place to request a social insurance number, valid social insurance numbers were not obtained for 827 benefit recipients. This increased the risk of fraud as applicants could be provided with more than a single payment of the benefit. Lack of valid social insurance numbers were also part of issues involving delays in issuing appropriate tax reporting information as required by the Canada Revenue Agency.

The audit also found poor controls in providing over $50 million in advance payments to a service provider to administer the program, and then not collecting unused funding of $15.8 million until January 2021, well after the program had terminated. In addition, the department contracted with the service provider to implement the program without clearly specifying the roles and responsibilities of the contracted parties. The contract failed to include an appeal process or detail resources required for critical program activities.

“Lack of monitoring by the department is also concerning,” Leahy said. “This impacts the accountability of the service provider to the department, and ultimately to New Brunswick taxpayers. Oversight and monitoring of programs to help the most vulnerable should be a priority for government.”

There has been no public reporting on the performance of this program by the department to date.

“We realize the department was required to plan and implement the program in a very short timeframe due to the nature of the pandemic and the need to respond quickly to the needs of impacted New Brunswick residents,” said Leahy. “The aim of our audit was to provide recommendations for future improvements when government departments are faced with similar situations.”

The report contains 14 recommendations to the department addressing planning, contracting, and monitoring weaknesses in the program planning and implementation processes. The acting auditor general also made one recommendation to the Executive Council Office to create a formalized process to support departments tasked with new activities during an emergency situation such as the pandemic.

The full report is available online.