GNWT releases new plan to fight poverty

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The GNWT renewed its anti-poverty plan to become Working Together II – An Action Plan to Reduce Poverty, released on Aug. 30. image courtesy of the GNWT

The GNWT’s renewed antipoverty plan aims to reduce bureaucratic red tape, filling gaps in the data, and help set departments up to tackle the issue together.

“One of the major things that we wanted to do was improve collaboration and co-ordination within government,” said Ori Wah-Shee, senior advisor for antipoverty in the Department of Health and Social Services’ Indigenous Health and Community Wellness division.

“Previously we were having to go through deputy ministers, which really slowed down the process. Now we have an inter-departmental team who is management-level and they can make decisions on the fly and commit resources.”

The new action plan, titled Working Together II – An Action Plan to Reduce Poverty, was released on Aug. 30.

“The renewed Territorial Action Plan to Reduce Poverty strengthens the GNWT’s ability to work collaboratively with partners and stakeholders to address poverty in our communities,” stated Glen Abernethy, minister of Health and Social Services, in a news release.

While some of its main goals seem might seem focussed on process – developing departmental working groups, formalizing the Anti-Poverty Advisory Committee, creating new monitoring and reporting approaches for poverty in the NWT – Wah-Shee says this streamlining is setting the GNWT up to better produce tangible action in NWT communities.

Wah-Shee said some near-term actions that will be seen include expanding production of local food, establishing a Food Security Coalition for the NWT, increasing access to high-quality childcare through programs such as junior kindergarten and early childhood education worker training.

The federal government, which just released its own nation-wide antipoverty strategy, created in 2018 a “market basket measure” for the country, which sets the poverty line as whether a family can afford to purchase a specific basket of goods and services in its community.

“Our critique of that is that it does not include our territory in that measurement,” said Wah-Shee, noting that the data doesn’t exist for the market basket in the NWT.

The new strategy commits to gathering this data and Wah-Shee said the GNWT may be able to produce it within two years.

The plan also intends to build on recent measures undertaken by the GNWT to tackle the issue, department-by-department. Wah-Shee listed some highlights of recent achievements.

As of April 1, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment increased the “aged and disabled allowance” to $405 from $300. The department also increase the rate of course reimbursement under Student Financial Assistance.

The NWT Housing Corp. has allocated $1.2 million to Aklavik, Behchoko and Fort Simpson to operate the Northern Pathways to Housing program, which puts individuals in stable housing. As well, $600,000 has gone to Housing First in Yellowknife, which operates under a similar idea.

“The philosophy is you provide housing first, and then you provide those wraparound services to help keep them out of homelessness.”

Also, $400,000 has gone towards Rapid Rehousing, which targets people who are experiencing unstable housing, such as couch surfing. The program looks to continue to grow.

Environment and Natural Resources is working on its Sustainable Livelihood Action Plan, which has facets addressing food security, income, housing and on-the-land activities.
Industry, Tourism and Investment is concentrating on its agricultural strategy, aimed at increasing food security in communities.

Justice is running a pilot program to pair people who’ve fallen through the cracks of government services with “pathfinders” who help them figure out what they need to do to access these services.

Municipal and Community Services has doubled funding to a non-profit organization stabilization fund, which helps carry them through rough patches.

“Our priority is to ensure that residents have access to supports that they need to live in dignity – that is always been a key word when we are doing this work – and that they’re free from poverty and active members in their community,” said Wah-Shee.

She said the GNWT acts in a central, co-ordinating role in addressing poverty.

It aims to keep this action plan as a “living document” that changes and adapts according to feedback delivered by community and Indigenous governments, as well as non-government organizations, through annual Anti-Poverty Roundtables.

Progress reports on antipoverty will also be released annually  now, as opposed to every five years previously.

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