Evacuees head to an aircraft at Hay River's airport. Photo: Town of Hay River
As a commitment from Canada to match generous donations flowing into United Way NWT drags into its 11th week, the agency is anxiously watching requests for help mount.
The matching amount Canada has said it will give the charity is now estimated at $900,000, said David Connelly, chair of United Way NWT’s emergency response committee.
While the commitment was made on June 5, in the early days of the Territories’ devastating wildfire season, none of that money has so far been received.
“The United Way appreciates the Government of Canada’s commitment to match donations,” Connelly said on Wednesday morning.
“We’re also very grateful for the outpouring of support from public, labour, business and numerous other governments. We’ve received pledges of $1.1 million, of which $200,000 has come from other territorial governments and is not eligible for matching.
“The remaining $900,000 is the amount we’re expecting from Ottawa.”
Ottawa has offered no specific cause for the delay, stating instead that officials are working on it.
“Federal officials are working closely with the United Way of the Northwest Territories to put in place the necessary arrangement to match donations,” said Annie Cullinan, a federal spokesperson, in an email on Tuesday evening.
“Minister [Harjit] Sajjan has directed Public Safety Canada officials to work as expeditiously as possible to issue the payment to the United Way of the Northwest Territories.”
Michael McLeod, the NWT’s MP, is also pressuring federal departments to honour the promise, said Connelly.
Almost 70 percent of the territory is under an evacuation order spanning Yellowknife, Ndılǫ, Dettah, the Ingraham Trail, Hay River, Fort Smith, Enterprise, Kátł’odeeche First Nation, Jean Marie River and Kakisa.
Connelly said $760,000 in United Way NWT funding has already been disbursed through more than 50 requests from front-line organizations such as First Nations and various non-profits, which then give support directly to evacuees in need.
“Applications continue to come in,” he added. “That commitment from Ottawa would make a huge impact for those evacuees and vulnerable groups facing weeks of being away from homes and jobs.”
The situation is complicated by the lack of a firm timeline for Canada’s commitment.
June 5’s commitment provided no clear timeframe in which donations would be matched, but clearly stated the overarching commitment to evacuees.
“The funds will be used to support to not-for-profit community groups that help residents who have been impacted by the aggressive and devastating wildfires, including those who were forced to evacuate,” the announcement read at the time.
The United Way’s emergency response committee has steadily upped its fundraising target to keep pace with rising donations.
As of Wednesday, the target is $2.5 million.
“Many evacuees urgently need essentials like food, hygiene, gasoline – and some evacuees have complex needs around health and care. To meet the needs of evacuees, there is a pressing need for more donations to the United Way NWT,” the group stated in a Wednesday press release.
The United Way encourages front-line agencies to continue sending in applications, Connelly added, and welcomes continued donations that for private donors are tax-deductible.