An $8.2 million COVID-19 package touted as the NWT government’s second wave of relief was announced by cabinet ministers Tuesday.
The new package aims to secure housing for at-risk homeless residents, boost income assistance and lend a hand to the transportation industry. As follow-up to $13.2 million focusing on business released earlier this month, government officials also promised more measures in the near future.
“There has to be more,” Finance Minister Caroline Wawzonek said Tuesday, adding that these efforts will evolve over months.
“There’s no denying there’s going to be significant financial impacts,” she added.
An announced $5 million to house residents experiencing homelessness is the largest pot of money.
In Yellowknife, that means $1.4 million will go toward preparing 25 units at Arnica Inn and 36 units at Aspen Apartments. The balance will go toward 130 units across NWT. This is a temporary measure to reduce the health risk facing those experiencing homelessness.
There is $1.6 million for income assistance, with single recipients getting $500 and households of two or more people getting $1,000. That’s supposed to be for cleaning supplies and preparing for a 14 day isolation period, if needed.
Assistance recipients can also exclude gifts and unearned income from their earned income calculations until June 30. Extra spending on additional supports will tally to $270,000.
Roughly $1 million will go to support the aviation industry – a critical piece of the territory’s supply chain hard hit by COVID-19 fallout, industry, tourism, and investment minister Katrina Nokleby said. That will dovetail with waiving fees for leases, licenses and concession fees at all airports from April 1 to the end of June.
Other costs slated to be waived include professional fees for Health and Social Services workers valued at $250,000, and those for food establishment permits, valued at $35,000 for the year.
There’s also a raft of single measures.
For example, the NWT Liquor and Cannabis Commission is offering liquor buybacks for businesses with unused stock as a result of pandemic closures.
The government will also waive interest charges on all late tax returns between March 15 and June 30, 2020
Finally, any seniors signed-up with the Senior Home Heating Subsidy will automatically have their registration renewed.
Response is “triage,” says minister
The latest rafts plans came as Regular MLAs also tuned into the briefing’s live stream. Without a regular session of government, the members aired their reactions to the announcement on social media.
Yellowknife North MLA Rylund Johnson voiced support for the plan’s housing measures while Frame Lake MLA Kevin O’Reilly called out the lack of support for renters and landlords, and no mention of restricting evictions.
Nokleby, meanwhile, called the government’s strategy “triage” as it targeted key areas in waves of policy announcements and developed a response.
As that happens, many Northern businesses still face urgent challenges and won’t survive to the middle of the month without immediate cash support, she said about her discussions with the federal government.
She said her focus moving forward revolved around supply chains and keeping airlines afloat.
Nokleby raised collaborating further with the other two territories to respond to more acute challenges facing northern communities, like the cost of living.
Asked how the government plans for NWT workers with multiple jobs facing layoffs, Wawzonek said much of the relief will fall to Ottawa, pointing to recent federal relief packages.
“We’re working with the federal government to make sure the programs they have are properly adapted to the needs of the North,” she said.