First Nation told to pro rate assistance cheques

The Liard First Nation says it is being told by Aboriginal Affairs to pro-rate backlogged assistance cheques to its citizens.

The Liard First Nation says it is being told by Aboriginal Affairs to pro-rate backlogged assistance cheques to its citizens.

The First Nation’s director of finance, Frank Vullings, said the federal government is insisting that cheques be reduced because they weren’t handed out on the first of the month, something that has never happened before.

“This is new. This is something that you guys are pulling out of your hats as we go along. You’re saying, ‘Pro-rate them so they only get half the rent or half the food,’” Vullings said.

“How would you like to be a landlord and you’re renting to someone on income assistance, and that person says, ‘Well, I was late so they only gave me three weeks rent?’ That shit ain’t gonna fly,” Vullings said.

Right now, the First Nation’s staff is still dealing with backlogged assistance enrolment from September. A private contractor has been hired on a temporary basis by the federal government to handle intakes for October.

H. G. Smith and Associates also runs programming for First Nations in B.C. and Alberta, including the Morley Reserve outside of Canmore, Alta.

“It didn’t take us long to realize that you know, maybe this is going to be a good thing for the First Nation,” Vullings said.

“He’s got a very compassionate demeanour and his staff is very experienced. I said to him last night, ‘You know, it’s too bad that we had to do this with Canada to meet you.’ We had expressed for several years our challenges with the social assistance program. If Canada had said, ‘You know, why don’t you go talk to this H.G. Smith guy and do that process,’ we probably would have jumped at it a long time ago,” Vullings said.

Hubert Smith, the owner of the company, said his staff has extensive experience not just in administration work but also in handling difficult case loads.

“I think it’s about consistency. We have trained staff that have that kind of experience in terms of looking at the programs and insuring that we’re in compliance with the programs,” Smith said.

Some members of his staff are trained social workers, and others have acquired their skills through extensive on-the-job experience, he said.

Smith’s workers will be paid the same administration fee rates that the First Nation’s own staff received until that government handed responsibility for the program back to Aboriginal Affairs in September.

The First Nation said $146,000 a year to run a $2 million program isn’t enough, and it faced a backlog of hundreds of needy social assistance clients who hadn’t received their cheques.

On Tuesday morning, the News sought comment from Aboriginal Affairs, asking the government to comment on the situation. By press time on Friday morning, the department still had not responded to our questions.

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