N.W.T. gov’t announces financial aid programs for wildfire evacuees, host communities

R.J. Simpson, the MLA for Hay River North, outside the Yellowknife Multiplex which has acted as a temporary evacuation centre. Simpson said the new financial aid programs are ‘not going to make everyone whole, not everyone’s going to be eligible, but it will help many of those in need.’ (Liny Lamberink)

One program aimed at evacuees whose work was disrupted, another is for communities that hosted evacuees

The Northwest Territories government launched two new programs on Thursday to help evacuees, and some host communities, with the financial burden of displacement.

One program is aimed at people who’ve lost income due to an evacuation, and the other is meant to help smaller communities that have taken in evacuees.

The funding programs arrive as a wildfire still rages next to Hay River, N.W.T., and the Kátł’odeeche First Nation reserve.

Following an 11-day evacuation order, Hay River residents began returning home Thursday. Residents of the severely damaged Kátł’odeeche First Nation reserve have yet to be allowed back.

As of Wednesday, nearly 2,000 evacuees had registered in Yellowknife. A number of others have been staying in other N.W.T. communities.

“This is the second year in a row that this has happened now. For those of us living on Vale Island, I believe it’s the fourth year in a row we’ve had to evacuate,” Hay River North MLA R.J. Simpson said in the legislature Thursday, referring to evacuations triggered by previous years’ floods.

Simpson said the financial support programs for evacuees are a first for the territory, “so that’s very much appreciated.”

“It’s not going to make everyone whole, not everyone’s going to be eligible, but it will help many of those in need,” he said.

$750 for evacuees won’t cut it, MLA says

The Evacuee Income Disruption Support Program is meant to help those whose work was interrupted by an evacuation, with a one-time payment of $750.

To be eligible, a person must be age 17 or older and must have lost income because of an evacuation lasting more than seven days.

In the view of Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland however, one $750 cheque isn’t going to cut it.

“When we look to the South and what’s happening in Alberta, Alberta residents are receiving $1,250 per adult and $550 per dependent child when they go seven days with a mandatory evacuation,” she told the Legislative Assembly.

“One of the concerns that I have is that there is such a high cost of living in the Northwest Territories,” she said.

“Missing even one or two days of pay is extreme for people.”

‘One of the concerns that I have is that there is such a high cost of living in the Northwest Territories,’ said Kam Lake MLA Caitlin Cleveland. (Mario De Ciccio/Radio-Canada)

Echoing Simpson, Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said the government isn’t capable of making “everybody whole.”

“No relief program that we ever come out with is likely going to be one that is completely satisfactory, that makes anyone whole, and that totally fixes every single need that anyone has,” she said.

Community grants for hosting evacuees 

The Community Government Hosting Evacuees Grant offers financial aid to communities that acted as unofficial evacuation hubs.

Eligible community governments can get between $20,000 and $40,000, depending on how many evacuees they hosted.

“We understand that some evacuees have chosen not to come to Yellowknife for a variety of reasons and were being supported by other communities in the South Slave and the Dehcho,” said Deputy Premier Diane Archie.

“We commend these communities for taking in, feeding, supporting evacuees during such a challenging period.”

Archie said the Community Government Hosting Evacuees Grant is meant to help cover the cost of staff, lodging, meals and other essential services that these communities put toward hosting evacuees.

To be eligible, the community must host 10 or more registered evacuees and apply within 30 days of when evacuees are allowed to return home.

The N.W.T. government says community governments can request funding after an evacuation order has been active for seven or more days.

People can find more information about both programs, including how to apply, on the N.W.T. government’s website and Facebook page.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Ash falling ‘on our heads’: Hay River, KFN evacuees drive through the night, CBC News

Russia: New NOAA report finds vast Siberian wildfires linked to Arctic warming, The Associated Press

Sweden: Swedish project uses satellites to help spot and monitor wildfires, Radio Sweden

United States: Wildfires in Anchorage? Climate change sparks disaster fears, The Associated Press

Sidney Cohen, CBC News

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