COVID-19 is forcing Yellowknifers to face new realities few imagined mere weeks ago.
Schools are closed, employees are working from home with their children in tow, and many non-essential workers have been laid off.
As Ottawa scrambles to ready economic aid packages for Canadians impacted by the widening nationwide shutdown, many anxious residents have been left waiting for relief.
“It’s scary,” said Dawnelle Rasmussen, a bartender and server laid off from her job last week.
“People in the service industry mostly live on tips and a bit from our paycheck,” she said.
Bars have shut down, and most restaurants are only offering takeout, based on recommendations from the territory’s chief medical officer.
That’s left scores of workers, like Rasmussen, without a job as they await aid.
The federal government says relief is coming. Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a $82-billion aid package aimed at supporting Canadians and businesses affected by the pandemic.
The aid package, which includes emergency benefits for people who don’t qualify for employment insurance (EI) or those who don’t get paid sick leave, is meant to ensure Canadians have enough money to buy groceries and other essentials, while ensuring businesses’ ability to pay employees. Emergency benefits would extend to the self-employed and those taking care of children at home who aren’t eligible for EI.
In an unprecedented surge, over half-a-million people applied for EI last week.
Federal relief, however, isn’t expected to kick in until next month or later, leaving Rasmussen and other residents worried.
“I won’t have enough money from EI to even pay rent,” said Rasmussen. She’s been on the phone trying to get payments deferred to a later date but lines are bogged down.
“So many people are trying to do the same, and some phone lines just drop before it rings due to high volume,” she said.
Julie-Ann Patricia Beauprie, who’s due to give birth this summer, said she’s experiencing similar issues caused by a spike in EI requests.
“There’s so many people applying. It’s hard for me to get on. I’m just freaking out as it’s been a week since I’ve worked,” Beauprie told NNSL Media.
Samantha Janes, at home with her 10-month-old, is on maternity leave. She’s trying to stretch out EI payments before more relief becomes available.
“I think everyone at this point is worried about how they’re going to pay bills. Many are forced to stay home due to having children that can’t go to school,” said Janes.
She’s tried to file an application under Jordan’s Principle — federal legislation meant to ensure the delivery of crucial services for First Nation children — but phone lines have been tied up, said Janes.
Meanwhile, many people who rent in Yellowknife are wondering whether or not payments will be deferred — a measure that’s been implemented in some jurisdictions to relive the economic impacts brought on by COVID-19.
Northview Northview Apartment REIT had not answered several requests for comment from NNSL Media as of Tuesday afternoon.