It’s Out Of My Hands

Here’s some cool guest material submitted by our good friend Carin, some time contributor, more frequent commenter. Enjoy, and feel free to send me things too, just make sure they’re quality, because Carin’s stuff when she decides to write is pretty good, as you’re about to see.

It’s out of my hands!

If you are a student in Ontario, and you get money from OSAP, or the Ontario Student Assistance Program, this phrase will sound very, almost oddly, familiar to you. Basically, for those who don’t have to deal with this atrocity, OSAP is a government-run student loan program. You apply, and they run what you tell them through some mystical set of calculations to decide how much help they’re gonna give you. Sounds good? Well in theory, it does, until you realize the government is running this.

Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the money I receive, whenever they decide I’m poor enough to receive it, which seems to be at random. I swear that, instead of a set of mystical calculations that decide applicants’ fates, it’s a set of chimps that are scared shitless and given pointers. Then whoever they point at in the pile gets money. But that’s not even my biggest problem with OSAP. The government can’t be understood, we just have to face it and deal with it when they are particularly asinine about it.

This is what I have a major problem with. A couple of years ago, the government took an already inefficient system and subjected it to further butchering. Before this point, you applied, then OSAP granted you your loan and you decide which bank was supposed to hold the money. Then, although the government was slow as molasses, it was simple. You knew the bank was separate from the government and the government was separate from the bank. You knew where to go when you had a problem at a certain stage. The government if you felt you didn’t get enough, the bank to find out why it wasn’t in your account. Plus, even though the government was slow, the banks were usually pretty fast, and since multiple banks did this stuff, they split the load so they weren’t so overwhelmed.

Then, up in some government office, a twinkling light went off in someone’s head. This was such an unusual occurrence that much fanfare was made of it. Someone got an idea! They thought, “Let’s get OSAP centralized!” Now what should that mean to you? One place, right? One place to direct all your queries? One place that should have all necessary records and can help you figure out where the error is, right? Well that wasn’t the government’s idea. To make things worse, they called this place the National Student Loan Centre. Now what does that tell you? The same things as I mentioned above about the information being centralized? Or am I crazy? I don’t know which scenario I want more to be true.

Anyway, this is the process you go through now. You apply online, which is enough of a bitch. If you really don’t want to apply online, you can pay them 10 bucks for a paper form, which is getting even harder to do now. Ten bucks? Come on, it’s not that much paper. At the university’s inflated rates for photocopying, it would have to be 100 pages, and there’s no way it is. I wouldn’t even mind applying online if it sped things along, but it takes the same plodding pace as if I filled it out and mailed it.

Then you get a letter from the government saying that either the scared chimp pointed at you and you got money, or the chimp crapped on your application, rendering it unreadable, whatever the case may be. If you’re lucky enough to get pointed at, then you have to go pick up your application papers at your school at the beginning of the year. Now, you’d think, great! You pick them up and off we go. A couple days later, and woohoo, the cash has arrived and you’re all good for the semester. No no no. That only happens in a perfect world. Here’s what happens in this one.

First of all, the people handing out the papers don’t even get that much training from the powers that be. I sort of feel sorry for them, because all they do all day is deal with pissed off student after pissed off student, and have to smile and nod and pretend that everything is going to be fine even though they don’t have a flaming clue because all they’ve been trained to do is, check the social insurance number, find the loan certificate that matches, hand loan certificate to pissed off student, move said student along. Repeat.

Then you deal with another set of people across the hall who are solely responsible for processing these papers. It seems the first people are employed by the Ontario government, and these people are employed by the national student loan centre. Again, these people are by no means experts in this stuff, nor are they connected to the system in any permanent way. They’re just sort of given basic training and a few key lines that should get them along. You give them your papers and a voided cheque and they tell you to chill out and allow at least a week for them to process your loan and another few days for the money to actually arrive in your account. I think I feel more sorry for these people, because at this point if the student isn’t annoyed already, they will become so after being told they may have to wait up to two weeks for their money. They will become pissed off very, very quickly.

And this is where the fun really starts. You see, these people don’t arrive on campus until the beginning of each semester, which is coincidentally not far from when your tuition comes due. So, if you arrive on the very first day to get your stuff in and everything goes off without a hitch, then you might get your money before the university wants it. But not everyone can get it done the first day, and there are always bound to be problems with some people’s loans being processed that are nobody’s fault. So you’re told to just whistle a happy tune for two weeks, and you are asked that, if your cheque bounces, “do you have overdraft protection?” Like we should have to pay for the slowness of the system. The university, or OSAP, should be reimbursing us god damn it! We shouldn’t be thrown thousands of dollars in debt with no recourse because of these inefficiencies!

So you wait…and you wait…and you hope…and the fateful day of your tuition coming due comes closer. Can’t you just hear the music from Jaws? Worried, understandably so, you pick up the phone and call the university and ask if they can hold onto your cheque a couple days because your OSAP isn’t in your account. They tell you that they can’t do that, it’s out of their hands, that the cabinet is locked, and that no one has the authorization to open it and take out your cheque. Translation? We’re just too damned lazy to get off our asses and look for your one cheque. We’d rather twiddle our thumbs and sip a double double.

My ass no one has the authorization to open the cabinet. Someone sure does when it’s cashing day. Is he barred from university contact any other day of the year? Then they tell you, “you’ll have to call the OSAP department.” So you do. They tell you, “sorry, it’s out of our hands. If it’s been processed, we don’t know where it is. You’ll have to call the National Student Loan Centre and see what they say.” So you call them and they tell you what day they sent it to your bank, but they have no idea when it will be in your account because after they process it, guess what they’re going to say! Come on! You can do this! If you guessed, it’s out of their hands, again you win a big fat bag of nothing. What? What kind of money-handling is that? If I were to send them some money, they would expect me to know exactly when it would appear on their desk, no ifs, ands, or buts about it! Anyway, during this crazy call, you notice what seems to be an error on your account, so you ask them to verify how much loan money you were given this year. Their response? This too is out of their hands, and that you’re supposed to call some automated OSAP line run by the government of Ontario that you have to pay to call. You! have to pay to not have a chance to talk to any human! You! have to pay to be read some figures over a phone! Ooo, please afford me the privilege. At this point, you’re livid I’m sure. I know I was. If I wasn’t at a public phone, the scene would not have been pretty.

And I’m sure I’m not alone. In fact, I know I’m not. Because the government was in no way ready to be overwhelmed by a problem they created themselves, that is pushing double the amount of students out of high school at once, the university had to actually extend the tuition deadline because they were getting flooded with pleas to hold onto tuition cheques due to lack of OSAP. Isn’t this an absolute farce? Isn’t it ridiculous that, in addition to creating the double cohort problem themselves, they created their own inefficient system by trying lamely to be efficient? Any dumbass can figure out why this system isn’t working. More applications go to less places, staffed by less people to save the government money, so processing time is longer. Why did they have to do that? If it wasn’t broke, which I don’t think it was, why did they have to try and fix it?

The only thing I can figure out is that the government gets money from the processing of these loans. I’ve figured out, through all these struggles, that the only thing that’s centralized is the disbursement of the loans. The scared chimps are still kept very separated from this central place. It’s not like I like the banks having more money, but hell, they were doing
a better job, or at least it seemed that way to me, so why not just give it back to them? The suckiest part of this whole thing is that the powers that be are kept even more well-shielded by poorly-trained workers and puppets up in the student finance department of each university and college. So along with the inefficiency of it all, you can’t get anywhere!

So what’s the best way to end this complicated mess? I guess I hope this makes someone somewhere feel better about what they’re going through, and lets them know they’re not alone. And hey, maybe it’ll save someone a few rounds of governmental ping pong. So to everyone battling this system, good luck dealing with this load of crap, good luck in school, and good luck finding a well-paying job so you can tell OSAP where to stick their loan program and avoid this mess altogether!
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