The Liard First Nation says there are 30 social assistance clients still waiting for payments for September, and an expected 300 more who will need help in October.
Time is running out, workers are burning out, and the First Nation still doesn’t know how the federal government plans to take over the program a week from now, said PJ Hombert, the First Nation’s executive director.
“It’s been very frustrating,” she said.
“We’re feeling that there is a lack of planning. They are not willing to take any responsibility. They’ve put it on our shoulders to provide solutions with the funding that we have,” Hombert said.
The social assistance program is funded by the federal government, and administered by the First Nation in accordance with the Yukon Social Assistance Act. But that doesn’t provide enough funding to run the program properly, Hombert said.
Two weeks ago, the First Nation government announced it was handing responsibility for running the program back to the Canadian government because it wasn’t getting enough support to deal with the workload.
“I called them back in September and said, ‘We still have 90 clients left to see, and this is becoming a real problem. We’re not going to be able to take in October clients because we still haven’t seen our list of September clients,’” Hombert said.
“They’ve just been kind of schlepping it off, like, ‘No, it’s your responsibility. We’ve given you your six per cent admin fee, so deal with it,’” she said.
Hombert said that, right now, her government has two workers trying to manage a heavy workload that isn’t sustainable.
“They are still working on those 30 clients left to see. They are also working on preparing fuel orders for social assistance clients because people are running out of fuel and it’s getting cold out.
“They are also working on getting adult care payments out for October, and arranging firewood for our elders. Do we want to see people out there not getting October payments? No, of course not. It just breaks my heart to see this happening,” Hombert said.
The First Nation’s plan is still to have the federal government take over the program next Friday, Hombert said, but this whole month was supposed to be a transition period and the First Nation doesn’t know what the feds have been up to or how they are preparing for the transfer.
Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development declined to provide a spokesperson to comment. Nor did the department answer questions emailed by the News. Instead, it only provided a short written statement.
“Liard First Nation indicated to the department that it would not issue benefit cheques to existing clients, despite the legal obligation to deliver assistance as determined in their funding arrangement,” the email said.
The department said it will be in Watson Lake today to offer emergency assistance to those who need it.
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