N.W.T. residents can now get up to $240K in disaster relief

A file photo from Paradise Gardens, where the Hay River topped a 25-foot bank last week.  (Loren McGinnis/CBC - image credit)
A file photo from Paradise Gardens, where the Hay River topped a 25-foot bank last week. (Loren McGinnis/CBC - image credit)

For the first time in more than a decade, the Government of the Northwest Territories has updated its policy for providing financial assistance to residents needing disaster relief to fill "gaps" and "inefficiencies" that came up after last year's flooding in the Dehcho region.

The change was announced Monday afternoon, just days after severe flooding forced evacuations from the communities of Hay River and the K'atl'odeeche First Nation.

The Disaster Assistance Policy sets out the guideline for residents, small businesses and community governments needing financial assistance following natural and other disasters, including flooding.

"Gaps and inefficiencies did become apparent when we were applying 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 and Community Affairs, in a news conference Monday.

The updated policy will allow residents and small businesses to apply for up to $240,000 in assistance. That's more than double the previous maximum assistance amount of $100,000. There is no cutoff for the amount of assistance community governments can apply for.

The policy can now cover up to 90 per cent of damage, up from the previous 80 per cent.

Assessors heading to communities

During the 2021 floods in Fort Simpson and Jean Marie River, the territorial government received criticism for its policy, which required residents to pay out of pocket for repairs, then apply for reimbursement. Now the government says residents can get up to half of their financial assistance in advance.

Those looking for assistance are now required to register with the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs.

"If you are not sure if you are eligible for assistance, please register and we will have staff to work through that process with you. The registration process will help us understand who has insurance, if your home was damaged, what category of eligibility you fall into," Gareau said.

"We know people won't have access to their documents to fully complete the forms but again we do want everyone to register and we will have staff to follow up with you to complete your registration if you're unable to do so."

Gareau said workers were sent to communities this week to help people with registration. She also said assessors have been hired to do detailed damage assessments on properties and will travel to both Hay River and the K'atl'odeeche First Nation on Tuesday.

Once registered, residents will be contacted to set up a time for an assessment. Once an assessment is completed it could take several weeks for people to get the results. They can then apply for an advance payment of up to half of what it will cost to fix the damage.

Residents must have a minimum of $1,000 in damages to receive assistance. Small businesses need to have at least $5,000 in damages and community governments need to have damages equal to 5 per cent of operations and maintenance budgets.

In the short term, residents can also apply for "a temporary displacement allowance" to help with the cost of accommodations and storage for up to six months.

The new changes also expand the eligibility requirements for small businesses looking for help. Self-employed hunters, trappers and harvesters, non-profit organizations and landlords are now eligible for assistance. To qualify, small businesses need to have yearly gross revenues of at least $10,000 to a maximum of $2 million.

However, if a resident's home was built after an area was designated as being "disaster prone", like a flood zone, their repairs may not be eligible. Homes built before the area was given that designation can only receive disaster assistance three separate times.