An Inuit Elder in Winnipeg says the province of Manitoba is clawing back a one-time COVID-19 payment meant to help Indigenous people weather the pandemic.
Janis Salluviniq is upset Manitoba claimed $500 of her $750 coronavirus benefit.
“Is one government allowed to steal from another government when it comes to the health of people relying on both governments?” she wondered.
Salluviniq’s $750 payment came from the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, which received approximately $4.3 million from the federal Indigenous Community Support Fund.
The $120-million fund was created in March to help Inuit, First Nation and Metis Peoples with emergency coronavirus expenses, but Manitoba sees it as additional income for those on provincial benefits.
Salluviniq, who is 64 and disabled, receives less than $1,000 a month from Manitoba Employment and Income Assistance (EIA) and the Canada Pension Plan combined.
She planned to buy extra food, cleaning supplies and whatever else she needed to protect herself from the virus with the extra benefit that Manitoba describes as an “over payment.”
However, that’s not how the three northern territories or British Columbia see it.
“Nunavut is excluding these kinds of benefits (from clawback), as well Yukon, Northwest Territories and the province of British Columbia,” said Josh Brandon, a community organizer with the Social Planning Council of Winnipeg.
“These kinds of benefits… are things that should go to help vulnerable people who are experiencing extraordinary costs.”
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A spokesperson for the Manitoba government said EIA clients were granted “a one-time exemption of $250 with the remainder of any benefit considered an available resource.”
In a statement emailed to APTN News, the spokesperson added: “This mirrors our approach to the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB – now discontinued) and the new Canada Recovery Benefit, Canada Recovery Caregiving Benefit, and Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit.”
Salluviniq was devastated to learn the money would not be clawed back if she lived in Nunavut..
“Can Manitoba EIA demand that I do not get $500 when they only supplement me around $150 a month?” she asked.
“Just wondering, does $150.00 a month give them that much power?”
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The Trudeau government added more money to the fund in May and again in August.
“The health, safety and well-being of all people in Canada, including First Nations, Inuit and Métis is and will remain a top priority for all…,” it explained on its website.
“This is why we must support distinctions-based measures to improve public health response for Indigenous communities and provide them with the flexibility they need to address the specific needs identified by communities and their members.”
A spokesperson for Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller asked for more time Friday to respond to this story.
Meanwhile, Brandon said Ottawa has asked the provinces to exclude CERB payments from its EIA calculations.
“That’s a principle that all provinces should be following,” he said in an interview.
“And, unfortunately, our Manitoba government isn’t listening to other governments. It’s not listening to the voices of advocates – like our organization – it’s not listening to the voices of people in poverty, who are telling us and telling government that they need these benefits.”
He said the Social Planning Council has asked Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson how many people are receiving CERB and EIA but hasn’t received the information yet.
This week, as part of a coalition with other anti-poverty groups, it published an open letter calling on the province to increase EIA benefits during the pandemic.