Six months in, Covid-19’s financial impact on GNWT unclear
The NWT government says it has budgeted for economic relief measures worth $70.9 million in the six months since Covid-19 hit the territory, but is unsure how much money has been saved in other areas.
Programs ranging from income assistance supplements to student financial support and campground coupons have been launched since March. All are currently set to end between now and March 2021.
But the territory is also saving money on line items like travel, which has been vastly reduced among NWT government staff since the pandemic set in.
Department of Finance spokesperson Todd Sasaki said the territory had seen savings in some areas but “the amount of savings has not been quantified at this time,” despite monthly work to assess expenses versus the territory’s initial budget for the year.
In full: The GNWT’s economic relief measures so far (pdf)
The lack of information regarding those savings makes it impossible to know the precise financial impact of the pandemic on the NWT government after six months.
“Providing a summary of specific operational savings within a department’s budget will not provide an accurate financial picture of the overall cost pressures Covid has placed on the GNWT,” Sasaki told Cabin Radio by email.
He said the introduction of a new Covid-19 Secretariat, in essence a miniature department centralizing roles related to the pandemic, would help the government identify exactly how budgets have been affected.
“As we start transferring costs to the Covid Secretariat, we will have a better understanding of how much flexibility departments have in the budgets to help offset the incremental Covid costs that exceed federal funding supports,” Sasaki wrote.
Three of the GNWT’s economic relief measures have been fully or partially funded by the federal government: financial support to NWT airlines, a fund for investment in tourism, and a regional relief fund.
Ottawa announces $14.5M investment
On Monday, NWT MP Michael McLeod announced $14.5 million in federal funding would be given to the NWT as part of the Safe Restart Agreement.
The agreement is a Liberal government initiative designed to bring regional economies back to life safely.
In a statement, McLeod said the money would be spent on bolstering the NWT’s Covid-19 testing and contact tracing. The territory has not had to trace any contacts for five months, with no active case recorded among its residents since April.
The federal funding will also be spent on mental health supports, funding for municipalities, personal protective equipment for essential workers, financial help for parents to access child care, income support for people without paid sick leave, and supports for “vulnerable people like seniors.”