The NWT government just rolled out a new disaster assistance program. Here’s everything you need to know if you’re an evacuee starting to assess the damage.
The program is supposed to provide financial support to people who have suffered property loss or damage from severe flooding. The GNWT says the new version addresses issues uncovered last year.
“Our government learned several lessons from the 2021 floods, including the need for an updated policy,” minister Shane Thompson stated in a news release.
This is the first comprehensive review of the program for 26 years. The most significant changes are to the eligibility criteria, the maximum you can claim, and how you apply.
What is being offered?
This assistance program is intended to restore property to its pre-disaster state.
For private homeowners, this year’s program will cover up to 90 percent of the assigned value of the damage, up to a cap of $240,000. Up to half of your claim can be provided as an advance payment once your home has a complete, detailed damage assessment.
The new cap is more than double last year’s cap of $100,000.
Coverage includes damage to your primary residence as well as to any personal items deemed essential to everyday life. Financial assistance is also available for costs associated with protecting your property against future disasters.
Last year’s GNWT flood assistance covered the cost of replacing homes that were damaged beyond repair, said at the time to be a one-off decision because that year’s flooding was unprecedented. Now, in a second consecutive spring that of extraordinary flooding, the territory has yet to determine whether it will again pay for entire homes to be replaced.
At a briefing for reporters on Monday, Maca deputy minister Laura Gareau said the department will only know whether the cost of replacement homes can be covered once it has a better understanding of the extent of the damage.
Coverage for small businesses who suffered flood damage now includes self-employed commercial hunters, fishers, trappers, and other harvesters of natural resources, as well as non-profit organizations and landlords offering rental housing.
Assistance may be available to cover damage to inventory, office supplies, equipment and structures essential to the operation of the business.
The new assistance program also includes an allowance for up to six months that helps evacuees cover costs associated with temporary accommodation and storage of essential items, for up to six months.
Who is eligible?
To be eligible, homeowners must be seeking a minimum of $1,000 and small businesses a minimum of $5,000 in damages.
If your home was built in an area already considered vulnerable to flooding, your claim is unlikely to be eligible, though Maca said if you made efforts to mitigate the damage – or if the flood exceeded the historic high-water mark, as is likely in some areas of Hay River – claims may be considered.
Updated flood mapping is not yet available but Gareau said the extreme flooding seen in Hay River, the Kátł’odeeche First Nation and surrounding communities has been acknowledged as well above historic flood levels. That lack of flood mapping won’t slow down the application process, the territory said.
The deputy minister said people with private insurance may also be eligible for some coverage through the disaster assistance program. She advised people planning to file private claims to start the process as soon as possible and simultaneously register with Maca to determine their eligibility.
Accessing the program
Step one is to register with Maca to determine your eligibility and receive the application materials.
Pathfinders – people who assist you through the application process – have been sent to communities and evacuation centres to help residents get started. If you can’t find one in person, email them or call (867) 767-9161 ext 21031.
Once you’re registered, you will be contacted by a pathfinder to schedule a detailed damage assessment of your property.
Gareau said the assessments, paid for by the GNWT, are scheduled to begin on Wednesday at the latest, but the process could take several weeks.
The territory can’t provide advance payments before your assessment is complete, but you can expect to receive financial support in a matter of days once your application has been approved.
In the meantime, Gareau said, contractors are being sent to communities this week to start performing emergency abatement work, also paid for by GNWT, such as pumping out water, setting up fans, ripping out drywall and mitigating the spread of mould.
If you want those contractors to perform any work on your home, you need to register with Maca.
The GNWT has advised property owners to keep a detailed list of damage, with pictures, and contact your insurance company prior to beginning any repairs. You can follow the steps in this GNWT checklist if you need a guide.
Emergency Allowance benefit
The Department of Education, Culture and Employment offers an emergency allowance benefit, unrelated to Maca’s disaster assistance program, that may be available to you.
Individuals and families may be eligible for one-time relief payments of $500 and $1000 respectively.
The emergency allowance is a benefit under the government’s income assistance program meant to assist with extraordinary costs like covering lost food or clothing.
It’s only available if you already receive benefits through the income assistance program.
If you’re registered in that program, you will receive the emergency allowance automatically.
Payments were issued on May 12 through direct deposit and in some cases, by cheque, ECE said. Depending on your bank, you should have received the fund within 24 to 48 hours of that point.
If you’re experiencing financial difficulties and are not currently receiving benefits under income assistance, you’re encouraged to apply.
Lessons from Fort Simpson
Last year, Fort Simpson was one of two NWT communities that bore the brunt of spring flooding.
Fort Simpson Mayor Sean Whelly said flood-hit community members – who largely did not have home insurance, notoriously hard to acquire in many NWT regions – relied on money raised by private organizations and charities.
“That was used to assist with getting people back into their homes … because government funding was very slow,” Whelly explained.
“It was quickly apparent that people weren’t going to get any money for quite a while.”
The territory says it has tried to address that delay in the updated program.
For Fort Simpson, it wasn’t just a question of draining the basement or cleaning away the mould. There were entire homes that needed replacing.
Whelly said the village lobbied the territorial and federal governments to secure funding for the complete replacement of homes damaged beyond repair.
Last week, Whelly said no substitutes have so far arrived for 10 homes the governments agreed to replace. Residents of those homes are living in alternate accommodation.
“I’m hopeful that they’ve learned and they will be much quicker at rolling out this program to people in Hay River,” Whelly said.
He emphasized the need to keep detailed receipts of all expenses associated with repairs, as some members of his community were denied assistance last year when they did not provide adequate proof of payment.
In Monday’s briefing, deputy minister Gareau said the government will accept a wide variety of documentation but not self-generated, unverified receipts.
“We recognize that it’s going to take months, if not years in some cases, to restore our community,” Hay River town manager Glenn Smith told Cabin Radio last week – a sentiment echoed at the territorial level.
An estimated 4,000 people from Hay River and the neighbouring First Nations have been affected by flooding. Hay River residents are now allowed to return home, with the caveat that not all residences are habitable and some roads and services are out of use, but Kátł’odeeche First Nation members are still asked to stay away while essential services are repaired.