Hay River South MLA Rocky Simpson says the current level of assistance from the GNWT for those affected by the wildfire isn’t enough.
Simpson brought up the issue in the legislative assembly on May 30, stating that the $750 per person being offered by the territorial government under the Evacuee Income Disruption Support Program is nice, but it doesn’t go as far as he feels it should.
“It excludes many and leaves many without,” he said. “Residents are looking to the compensation package Alberta provided to evacuees, and our residents were expecting the same.”
Residents of Alberta who have been forced to flee their homes due to forest fires in that province are being given $1,250 per adult and $550 per dependent child from the provincial government.
Simpson said evacuees from the town of Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation (KFN) should be getting just as much as their southern counterparts.
“What was the rationale for settling on a payment of $750 per person, and why was it based on income disruption and not an actual cost incurred as this may exclude many evacuees?,” Simpson asked Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek.
Wawzonek said the biggest issue was population.
“We’re not Alberta,” she said. “They were dealing with less than one percent of their population that was forced to be evacuated. We were looking at almost 10 percent of the population in the Northwest Territories being evacuated.”
In addition, Wawzonek said the fiscal capacity to offer more simply isn’t there because the GNWT runs a deficit every fiscal year, meaning costs had to be minimalized.
“That’s where you have the EMO (GNWT Emergency Management Organizations) stepping in and providing transportation, food, shelter, you know, immediate toiletries, etc.,” she said. “I realize folks don’t necessarily want to stay at the emergency evacuation shelters but they were there, they were available in order to minimize costs and to fill those gaps for folks who needed it most.”
She added that the $750 amount was all about being as fair as possible.
“Income assistance already was providing $1,000 for someone with a dependent or $500 to an adult,” she said.
Anyone over the age of 17 who has been subject to an evacuation order of seven days or more and who has had income disruption of some kind because of the evacuation can apply. Applications are available at the GNWT website, but there is now a toll-free number evacuees can call
That includes those who haven’t evacuated, such as first responders, said Wawzonek, though she did say that people should evacuate if there is an order to do so.
Simpson also wondered whether money was getting to evacuees who had filled out their paperwork.
“How have they been disbursed? Is it by direct deposit, EMT, Canada Post?,” he said. “What is the timing between application and disbursement of payments, as there are many evacuees needing the funds now and asking when they should expect payment?”
Wawzonek said funds are being distributed through cheque or direct deposit, whichever method was easier for an applicant.
The following day, Simpson asked whether seasonal and temporary workers would be eligible for the program and Wawzonek replied in the affirmative.
“That applies to anyone who is self-employed, who may be in what is known as the gig economy or temporary employment or, again, any sort of disruptions,” she said.