Iqaluit’s mayor will soon be writing to the Government of Nunavut (GN) to review emergency Covid funding for Nunavummiut after a May 26 city council meeting.
During the meeting, Councillor Sheila Flaherty proposed the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program needs to better reflect the cost of living in Nunavut. CERB is a federal program to help Canadians who have been financially impacted by Covid-19.
“I would like council to adopt a motion to allow our mayor to write a letter to the Government of Canada,” said Flaherty.
She did not provided any details for the letter’s content, but stressed the CERB program needed to take Nunavummiut’s cost of living into consideration.
Coun. Romeyn Stevenson informed the council that Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami (ITK) has been dealing quite intensively with the federal government regarding the CERB issue highlighted by Flaherty.
Coun. Kyle Sheppard agreed with Flaherty’s motion but suggested the letter should be written to ITK instead of the federal government.
“They can use our support, potentially as leverage in their work with the federal government,” he explained.
Additionally, Sheppard said Mayor Kenneth Bell should write a letter to the GN relating to the clawing back of income assistance in relation to CERB.
The GN plans to reduce income support from those receiving CERB, said Sheppard.
“Those Nunavummiut, who are legitimately receiving this federal benefit, who may also be on income assistance now, are having their income assistance clawed back,” he said.
However, Sheppard did not explain why income assistance is being reduced by the GN.
According to the GN, Nunavummiut are not eligible for CERB if their only income for the last year has been from income assistance payments. However, if one has earned more than $5,000 in the last 12 months from other employment, the individual is eligible.
People who lose their jobs due to Covid-19 are required to apply for CERB before applying for income assistance. Anyone who quits their job voluntarily is not eligible for CERB, according to a statement from the GN on May 13.
During the May 14 press conference, Premier Joe Savikataaq also reminded Nunavummiut that CERB is considered income and not free money.
“If you are not eligible for this program, you will likely have to pay some or all of it back in the future,” he said.
During the council meeting Sheppard continued to explain that other territorial governments are not clawing back income assistance from those receiving CERB.
“If action is going to be taken, I would like to see it to encourage the Government of Nunavut to revisit that decision,” he added.
On May 26, the motion was passed for Mayor Bell to write a letter to both ITK and GN .
“I fully support the tireless efforts of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami to lobby for equitable access to all federal funding related to the current pandemic, that takes into account the high cost of living as well as the high rates of poverty experienced by Inuit living in Iqaluit,” said Janet Brewster, the deputy mayor of Iqaluit.