Toquaht chief Anne Mack addresses the crowd at a grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Secret Beach Marina last June. (Westerly file photo)

Vancouver Island West Coast First Nations giving emergency cash benefit to members

‘One of the things the government wants to do is ensure the needs of the people are met’

Some coastal First Nations are providing immediate emergency relief funding to their people to help offset the hardships brought on by the COVID-19 crisis.

Toquaht Nation, located on the western shores of Barkley Sound, declared a state of emergency March 29. On April 1, the Toquaht Nation Government made the decision to provide an emergency benefit in the amount of $500 to all adult citizens.

“That state of emergency was declared so we can take some direct measures to protect community members within the territory. To meet immediate needs of all citizens an emergency benefit was made available to those above the age of 18 in the sum of $500,” said Toquaht’s director of operations Angela Polifroni.

In declaring a state of emergency, Toquaht has restricted access to all Toquaht lands to only full-time residents of the village of Macoah and essential services. The Nation has also made Internet free to all residents for the time being.

“We are working through this like every other government. Just trying to be responsive and emergent with our emergency measures,” said Polifroni.

She said she has received about 65 applications for the $500 emergency benefit to date and will continue to process applications weekly.

“One of the things the government wants to do is ensure the needs of the people are met. We wanted to get cash in the hand of citizens as fast as possible. It’s never enough, but we wanted to do what we could to support people’s immediate needs,” said Polifroni.

Toquaht chief Anne Mack re-iterates.

“We are concerned for the health and well-being of our people, especially those living away from home. As a government we will continue to do what we can to support one another” said chief Mack.

READ: Toquaht Nation opens new marina in Barkley Sound near Ucluelet

Last week, Ucluelet First Nation (UFN) also released an emergency benefit to every adult within their Nation.

According to UFN president Chuck McCarthy, about 547 citizens received an e-transfer of $200 to help with their own individual needs.

“We will do everything we can on top of what the federal and provincial governments are doing. We are offering a helping hand in the time of need,” said McCarthy.

“This is the beginning process of a long-term strategy. We are also looking into a food development strategy,” he said.

Ucluelet mayor Mayco Noel said the District of Ucluelet is not considering an emergency benefit for its citizens.

“We are definitely considering a lot of different things, but right now our supports for those people that may be in need would be supporting the food bank. We are in constant communication with them. Our next budget meeting on April the 14, we will be looking at some different options that the CFO is laying out for us,” said Noel.

In terms of immediate benefits for Tofino residents, mayor Josie Osborne said the district has extended payment deadlines for utility bills and is investigating how to assist people with property taxes.

“Income supports, like the provision of a one-time taxable cash benefit, are not in the purview of local governments – that is why they happen at senior levels of government (i.e., the orders of government we pay income taxes to), so I don’t think any local government will be contemplating that kind of direct income support,” wrote mayor Osborne in an email.

“The immediate benefits we can provide our residents include measures such as extending payment deadlines for utility bills, which we have done in Tofino, or reducing or eliminating payment penalties. Changing property tax due dates is under the auspice of the Province, and we, like many local governments, have pressed for more details on measures the Province can take, or that they can authorize us to take, to assist people with property taxes,” Osborne wrote, adding that the district is also carefully reviewing their budget and draft 2020-2024 Financial Plan.

As First Nations of the Maa-Nulth Treaty Society, Toquaht and Ucluelet First Nation governments have the authority to declare a state of emergency.

While local governments in B.C. usually do have such power, in the event of flooding or wildfires for example, the Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General rescinded this power as part of the provincial state of emergency that was declared on March 18,2020. Municipalities like Tofino and Ucluelet cannot declare a State of Local Emergency without first obtaining the approval of the minister for the proposed declaration.

The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) opened on April 6 to all Canadians who have lost jobs or incomes due to COVID-19. As of April 7, over 532,000 people had applied for the federal $2,000 per month benefit.

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READ: As 500K+ apply for emergency benefit, Trudeau says aid coming for Canadians left behind

READ: Local First Nations pro-active in dealing with COVID-19

READ: Canada’s 75% wage subsidy is coming, but not for several weeks: finance minister

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