Coronavirus
Economy

MLA says NWT cancelling Covid-19 benefits for those most in need


The NWT government is removing Covid-19 benefits for residents who need them most, Yellowknife Centre MLA Julie Green says.

In an article posted to her website this week, Green said the decision to end subsidies related to income support, childcare, and housing – and a wage top-up program – was “a slap in the face.”

Green said the territory had allocated around $15 million to these programs but had, as of late May, reported spending only $2.6 million. (Housing spending had not been made public.)

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“In other words, the government spent a fraction of the total money allocated to the social envelope,” Green wrote.

The NWT government’s pandemic response included allowing people on income support to keep federal Covid-19 support payments and providing $5 million in emergency housing support.

In addition, there were childcare subsidies for some parents and a monthly top-up payment for childcare workers. The territory subsequently introduced a wage top-up for all NWT workers earning less than $18 an hour, in effect raising the minimum wage from $13.46 to $18.

The NWT government omitted all of the above programs from a statement this week in which it said “selected economic relief measures” would continue, like other forms of funding for childcare operators and the waiving of some tolls and fees.

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Green sat on a committee of regular MLAs that recently analyzed the impact of the NWT’s Covid 19-related benefits.

That committee, chaired by Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland, in June issued six recommendations to the NWT government. In part, the recommendations suggested:

  • increasing the annual “unearned income” limit for those on income support;
  • retaining a rent supplement program that was made easier to access during the pandemic;
  • keeping Covid-19 childcare subsidies as a step toward universal childcare; and
  • making the wage top-up program permanent.

“The pandemic has unexpectedly created opportunities for better government service. Rather than evaluate the committee’s recommendations and any information on the impact of these benefits, cabinet acted unilaterally to scale benefits back for those who need them most,” Green concluded.

She quoted NWT Premier Caroline Cochrane’s June 10 article for The Hill Times, in which Cochrane wrote that the territory’s economic relief measures had “helped us make some major advances in improving the health, housing, and other social supports our people have so urgently needed.”

Green said: “All that was wiped out this week.” She called on the territory to reinstate the benefits.

On Tuesday, Cabin Radio asked the NWT government to confirm how much had been spent of the allocated $15 million for the four programs highlighted by Green, and to explain its rationale for discontinuing the programs in question.

The territory had provided no response by Friday morning.

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