First Nations leaders in B.C. say Ottawa has agreed to match the provincial commitment to provide people on social assistance with an added $300 a month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funding for on-reserve income assistance flows from Indigenous Services Canada, while that money comes from the province for people who live off-reserve.
Cheryl Casimer, a member of the First Nations Summit political executive, said Indigenous Services agreed to match the provincial emergency benefits after meetings with the First Nations Leadership Council.
“If it’s a benefit being afforded to one group, just because of residency, then it should be afforded to the rest. So we were able to get that commitment from the regional director,” she said.
B.C. announced last week the supplement for people on income assistance and disability and said it will be distributed for the months of April, May and June. The $300 additional payment will first appear on the next round of provincial cheques, distributed on April 22.
B.C. Minister of Social Development and Poverty Reduction Shane Simpson said the additional funding will be added to cheques automatically, so there’s no need for people to apply for it. People receiving Employment Insurance or the Canada Emergency Response Benefit are not eligible for the provincial supplement.
‘It’s really good news’
Corrina Leween, the elected chief of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation, said it isn’t clear when the funds from Indigenous Services Canada will be distributed to bands but she said she welcomes the matched funding for membership.
“It’s really good news and it’s really appreciated as well,” she said.
She said as a semi-isolated community in northern B.C., the additional funds should help reduce the number of trips people need to make in and out of the community by enabling residents on social assistance to stockpile more of the food and necessities they need.
Leween said the main focus of leadership has been on encouraging people to stay home and to make sure elders and other people more susceptible to the virus have what they need at home.
“Every two weeks we’re delivering hampers to our elders and to our vulnerable members,” she said.
“So if we’re able to continue to concentrate on that and maybe increase that support — given that the social assistance recipients would get more funding to do what they need to do, then that would help for sure.”
Indigenous Services Canada did not respond to a request for comment before time of publishing.
As of Thursday, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in a B.C. First Nation.
On Monday, Indigenous Services Canada said it was aware of 35 cases on reserves and among Inuit — four in Saskatchewan, 11 in Ontario and 20 in Quebec.