For the first time in more than a decade, the Government of the Northwest Territories has updated its financial assistance policy for residents in need of disaster relief to address ‘gaps’ and ‘inefficiencies’ emerged after last year’s flooding in the Dehcho region.
The change was announced Monday afternoon, just days after severe flooding forced evacuations of Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation communities.
The Disaster Assistance Policy sets out guidelines for residents, small businesses and community governments who require financial assistance as a result of natural and other disasters, including floods.
“Gaps and inefficiencies emerged when we applied the policy to the 2021 spring floods due to its age, structure, and lack of clarity and definition,” said Laura Gareau, Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs and communities, during a press conference on Monday.
The updated policy will allow residents and small businesses to apply for up to $240,000 in assistance. This is more than double the previous maximum assistance amount of $100,000. There is no threshold for the amount of assistance that community governments can request.
The policy can now cover up to 90% of the damage, against 80% previously.
Assessors visit communities
During the 2021 floods in Fort Simpson and the Jean Marie River, the territorial government received criticism for its policy, which required residents to pay for repairs out of pocket and then seek reimbursement. Now the government says residents can get up to half of their financial aid up front.
Those seeking help are now required to register with the Ministry of Municipal and Community Affairs.
“If you are unsure if you are eligible for assistance, please register and we will have staff to work with you. The registration process will help us understand who has insurance, if your home has been damaged, what category of eligibility you fall into,” Gareau said.
“We know that people will not have access to their documents to complete the forms completely, but again we want everyone to register and we will have staff to follow you to complete your registration if you don’t. you are unable to do so.”
Gareau said workers were sent to communities this week to help people register. She also said assessors have been hired to do detailed damage assessments on the properties and will travel to Hay River and K’atl’odeeche First Nation on Tuesday.
Once registered, residents will be contacted to schedule a time for an assessment. Once an assessment is complete, it can take several weeks for people to get the results. They can then ask for an advance of up to half of what it will cost to repair the damage.
Residents must have a minimum of $1,000 in damages to receive assistance. Small businesses must have at least $5,000 in damages and community governments must have damages equal to 5% of operations and maintenance budgets.
In the short term, residents can also apply for a “temporary travel allowance” to help cover accommodation and storage costs for up to six months.
The new changes also broaden the eligibility criteria for small businesses seeking help. Self-employed hunters, trappers and gatherers, non-profit organizations and homeowners are now eligible for assistance. To qualify, small businesses must have annual gross revenues of at least $10,000 up to a maximum of $2 million.
However, if a resident’s home was built after an area was designated as “disaster-prone”, such as a flood-prone area, their repairs may not be eligible. Homes built before the area received this designation can only receive disaster relief three times.