Caroline Wawzonek: Supporting people, businesses and communities in response to COVID-19

Yellowknife — March 31, 2020
Ministers' Statements and Speeches

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Good morning

It is a pleasure to be here today, starting the week by talking to you about the second wave of funding and financial program changes that the Government of the Northwest Territories is rolling out to help support individuals, families, businesses and communities.

The last time we were here, when we discussed the roll out of the first wave of financial relief the GNWT put together in response to COVID 19, I said that we would continue to look for opportunities to be creative in the delivery of government services. 

I am pleased to be here again with you today to introduce a second wave of financial relief measures our government has identified to keep or put money in the hands of residents and businesses as we all do our part to prevent the spread of COVID 19.

First, I would like to talk about some changes to the Income Assistance Program.

Minister Simpson and his team have identified a series of immediate changes that will help support some of our most financially vulnerable citizens.

Today, we are introducing a one-time emergency allowance for income assistance recipients that will provide $500 to single recipients, and $1000 to households with two or more people to ensure that they have appropriate cleaning supplies, and are prepared for a 14 day period of self-isolation.

We are also be providing additional benefits to Income Assistance clients by excluding ‘gifts and unearned income’ from the calculation of earned income until June 30, 2020. This change will ensure that income assistance clients are able to keep whatever money they are given or earn over the next several months.

Next, Minister Chinna and her team at the NWTHC have identified $5 million dollars to support the immediate need to provide housing to people who are homeless or have housing instability so that they can self-isolate. $1.4 million of this funding will support the development of 36 housing units at the Aspen apartments and 25 units at the Arnica Inn; while $3.6 million will be directed to renovating 130 units in communities across the NWT. These units will ensure that individuals have somewhere safe to stay right away if they need to self-isolate and will help to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19 associated with overcrowded and instable housing.

We are also announcing several sector specific initiatives today, including:

  • Health and Social Services is waiving professional fees for medical professionals in the territory;
  • The GNWT will waive interest charges on all late tax returns between March 15 and June 30 including fuel tax and payroll tax; and
  • In support of our restaurant and hospitality industry, the NWTLCC will offer to buy back any unopened alcohol stock, ensuring that businesses have access to the cash they need now.

Together with the initiatives being announced by Minister Nokleby, this second wave of financial relief in response to the COVID 19 pandemic is the next step in our work to support northerners and is valued at approximately $8.259 million. These initiatives are to be implemented immediately. 

This adds to the initial financial responses announced earlier this month for a combined total value of approximately $21.459 million in GNWT financial relief to COVID-19.

As I said the last time, we will continue our work to support the people, businesses and communities of the Northwest Territories.

Our Premier and every Cabinet Minister have regular calls with our Federal, Provincial and Territorial counterparts where we share ideas and initiatives that we are undertaking here in the NWT, as well as thoughts and ideas on how to make the Federal programs as effective as possible for each region’s particular challenges; including, for example, the funding provided to Indigenous governments to support on the land activities. There is no doubt that we will need to continue to work closely with our Federal colleagues as we analyze and ultimately respond to the full financial impacts of COVID in the coming weeks and months.

We will also continue our financial response efforts at home. Several departments are already looking at what areas will require legislative or regulatory change in order to provide further relief for challenges created by the pandemic response. The Department of Finance continues to work with all departments to identify any areas where cost relief can be offered or existing financial supports made more flexible. Our unwavering goal is first and foremost to ensure the physical health of the people of the NWT by limiting the spread of COVID 19 but then also to ensure the mental, social and financial wellbeing of the NWT. We all remain committed to a whole of government response that will achieve these goals.