The NWT government is introducing a “one-time emergency allowance” to income assistance claimants in the territory alongside more supports for housing and businesses.
The emergency allowance will be worth $500 for those who are single or $1,000 for households of two people or more, Minister of Finance Caroline Wawzonek announced on Tuesday.
Wawzonek said the money was designed to help people who qualify prepare for a 14-day self-isolation period if necessary.
Asked when people using income assistance could expect to see the payments, Wawzonek replied: “My understanding is this is happening immediately.”
Gifts and “unearned income” will be excluded from the income assistance calculation until the end of June.
The NWT Housing Corporation is freeing up $5 million to help people without homes find somewhere safe to stay.
$1.4 million of that sum will be spent creating temporary housing units at Yellowknife’s Aspen Apartments and Arnica Inn. The other $3.6 million will be used to renovate 130 units in communities across the NWT.
The timeline for completion of that work and introduction of more housing units was not immediately clear.
NWT support now at $21.5M
Katrina Nokleby, the industry and infrastructure minister, said approximately $1 million in financial support would be offered to the aviation industry.
Meanwhile, the NWT’s Business Development and Investment Corporation has moved up the date it will begin accepting applications for short-term emergency loans.
“We are going to see a large amount of bankruptcies happening if we don’t get cash immediately into small business owners’ hands,” said Nokleby, as both ministers pledged to continue lobbying the federal government for help.
Tuesday’s support package, valued at a little over $8 million, is in addition to $13 million in NWT assistance announced earlier in March. All of the NWT’s measures are on top of billions of dollars in federal assistance that is beginning to roll out.
Also in Tuesday’s package, the NWT government said it would waive charges on all late tax returns until the end of June.
The NWT Liquor and Cannabis Commission will buy back unopened alcoholic beverages from restaurants and bars as a form of financial assistance.
Seniors in the territory’s home heating subsidy program will have their enrolment automatically renewed.
More supports coming
Wawzonek and Nokleby, answering questions via video link, said the territory was working with Yukon and Nunavut to present a united front in lobbying Ottawa for more to help northerners.
“We’re relying to a great deal on what the feds are doing, and working with the federal government to ensure [supports] are properly adapted to the needs of the North,” said Wawzonek.
The finance minister said she was confident that gaps in federal funding – for example, supports that did not take into account the northern cost of living – “will be filled” through consultation with the territories.
Other funds, like federal assistance for Indigenous governments to help residents get out on the land, have been announced in recent days.
“There has to be more, right?” said Wawzonek, committing to more financial support packages as time goes on.
“We are very much alive that we are in a relief stage right now,” she said. “This is going to be an ongoing conversation over many months.”
Help for aviation ‘vital’
Nokleby said: “The situation has evolved at a pace none of us could have predicted, and each day brings with it new challenges.
“We have to triage everything and deal with critical, pressing issues first. We’re looking at how we keep all of our communities supplied. How do we ensure businesses that are critical to the supply chain are maintained?
“A big piece of that would be the airline industry. If we allow businesses like some of our airlines to go under, we are putting people at risk.”
Assistance to NWT airlines involves the waiving of leases, licences, and concession fees from Wednesday until the end of June at all of the territory’s airports.
Earlier on Tuesday, national Inuit organization Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) had urged Ottawa to designate air transport to Inuit communities an essential service.
“Air travel routes in Inuit Nunangat are equivalent to the Trans-Canada Highway in southern Canada,” said ITK president Natan Obed in a statement.
“They are vital links connecting remote regions of the country to each other and to more populous centres,” said Obed. “Our airlines are called on for the transport of medical patients and for delivery of Covid-19 swabs, and form a critical backbone to our healthcare system.
“Any delays in this system due to significantly reduced flight schedules poses a significant risk to Inuit health and well-being.”
Nokleby, meanwhile, reiterated her support for the territory’s mines remaining open as long as they can do so safely. She said two diamond mines continuing to operate were working with the chief public health officer and Workers’ Safety and Compensation Commission.
“It is part of my job to safeguard our economy. I am focused on ensuring minimal impacts. I know residents are worried,” said the minister.