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GNWT rolls out $5 million for childcare

Education, Culture and Employment Minister RJ Simpson speaks to reporter at Legistlative Assembly. Nick Pearce/NNSL photo

The NWT government has earmarked over $5.1 million to cover childcare for essential workers.

Covering a three month period, the money will be split over four initiatives aiming to lower childcare costs and lend a hand to service providers, a territorial government press release said on Friday.

The government aims for the money to relieve parents in healthcare and essential services pressured by isolation and physical distancing measures, Education, Culture and Employment Minister RJ Simpson said on Friday.

“The point is to provide what is needed at this time, whether it’s cleaning supplies, whether it's increased wages, whatever the case may be to ensure essential workers have access to childcare, given the circumstances,” he told reporters on Friday.

The four planks of the funding are:

  • A $1.9 million subsidy will aim to lower child care costs by a third for workers who are required to physically attend work.
  • $1.3 million that will go toward a $1,000 per month wage top-up for child care staff, to ensure they’re “adequately resourced to provide child care services, especially during non-regular hours,” a government news release said. 
  • A $1.24-million subsidy will support early learning and child care programs that have closed due to COVID-19. This will help cover fixed costs like rent and utilities, allowing the provider to reopen when health risks are lower.
  • A final $665,000 will go to child care providers to support extra supplies, protective equipment and labour required to meet heightened cleaning efforts.

The money comes as childcare service providers face a financial crunch stemming from COVID-19.

To assist them, the new support flowing in will differ depending on the program, with the department of education, culture and employment being in contact with each to determine exact funding.

Simpson told reporters the department had been in "constant contact" with the programs over the course of a crisis that forced many to close.

At one point 70 per cent of programs were closed, Simpson said. That number’s down to half, with the largest programs open again, he added.

“Part of the reason that they’re open is they wanted to help out the efforts. We know essential workers need childcare and that was part of it, but we’ve also been in talks with them,” he said, noting they requested assistance with covering supplies and other costs.

“Hopefully more do open up again. But I think that the ones are open now, this program, even though it was just announced today had an effect as well,” Simpson said.  

After three months, however, the funding period for supports like cleaning supplies and labour will end. 

Simpson said his department, along with the department of health and service providers, was evaluating as it goes leading up to that time. 

“If it looks like in three months, the restrictions are being eased, that’s an easy decision,” he said. “If we need to extend or we need to change these programs, then we’re going to be flexible."

When combined with two relief packages GNWT rolled out in March, the new money brings the territory’s COVID-19 relief spending to about $26.5 million.

In a statement Friday, Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek described the territory’s pandemic response strategy as “targeted, responsive measures that have been deliberately designed to address the most pressing needs of our people.”