HANNAH BELL & KARLA BERNARD: Joint statement on failure of King government to get money into the hands of Islanders

It has been more than two weeks since Fiona wreaked havoc on Prince Edward Island. Everyone has been impacted and there are still thousands of Islanders without power. As part of its emergency response, the Government of Prince Edward Island is providing up to $250 per household impacted by post-tropical storm Fiona. This help can be for any expense and no receipts or proof of loss is required. You just need to confirm your name, address, and birthdate.

This seems easy enough, but for some reason the process to access these emergency dollars is convoluted and frustrating.

To try and get this money quickly into the hands of Islanders impacted, the King government has contracted with the Canadian Red Cross to administer the $250 Fiona financial relief program along with the Provincial Disaster Financial Assistance Program which is a separate program meant to cover uninsurable losses.

 

On top of these two programs, the Canadian Red Cross is also soliciting donations from Canadians to help Islanders most impacted by Fiona. This program is separate from the provincial government support and as of yet the Red Cross has not released information or criteria for accessing donation support.

Communication around these three separate programs has been confusing and inconsistent. The roll out was late and Islanders are having tremendous difficulty getting the help they desperately need. Islanders are frustrated and anxieties are increasing.

Access to applying for help is needlessly complicated and onerous. While government has said no Islander will be denied help, the application process is turning out to be a tremendous barrier for many to overcome.

While thousands of Islanders have applied and registered successfully and have received their $250 and spent it in their communities on groceries, gas, and other essentials, other Islanders have not been successful.

Many applicants are reporting they have registered and then not heard anything back. Others report they have registered and received a questionnaire about their needs, but not received a payment. Yet more people are reporting they are being called and are being told there is an issue with their claim and that they must go to one of only two Red Cross registration sites province wide to attempt to sort it out.

This is problematic for a number of reasons.

We are hearing of long lineups and confusion at these Red Cross registration sites. Wait times on Monday reached four or more hours, with people in line being turned away.

There are also access issues. For example, one location is in a mall downtown Charlottetown that is closed on Sundays. On top of that, parking is extremely limited in the downtown core.

Then there is the fact that there are only two locations province-wide requiring some Islanders to drive hours to register for help. Many Islanders cannot afford to drive to Charlottetown or Montague. Some don’t even have transportation to make the trip.

The long lineups and wait times are also preventing people from accessing help. Some parents do not have access to childcare to cover their long wait in line. It is also unreasonable to expect parents to make their children stand for hours in a line up. Seniors and people living with a disability are also being prevented from accessing these funds because of the failure to think about their needs and ability to stand and wait for hours in a long line up.

We are also hearing of people being treated in an undignified manner. We have heard from many Islanders who are being flagged for follow up, or who simply call to ask for help, being questioned as to whether or not they really need help. They are being treated as if they were being fraudulent in their application.

Issues are also arising from the definition of ‘household’. It seems the provincial government and/or the Canadian Red Cross didn’t allow for multiple households to be living at the same address, for example those living in a rental accommodation or co-operative housing. These applications are being flagged as potentially fraudulent.

It seems the reality of alternative living arrangements has not been considered. For example, PEI’s housing crisis has meant there are often multiple families living under the same roof simply because there are no homes for them to live in. $250 does not go far when you are attempting to provide food for 8, 10, or more people. Also, what about those living with roommates? They are not supporting each other financially and it would be accurate to recognize that these people represent separate households.

We know that some Islanders with phone numbers issued in other provinces are getting flagged.

This is a colossal failure by the King government to respond to an emergency situation. All of this means that many people will end up not getting money they desperately need. The need is great and the delivery of this program is cruel and unfair.

It does not have to be this way.

Look to other recent disasters around the world – like Florida after Hurricane Ian, or Vietnam after Typhoon Noru – where the Red Cross are there on day one, with disaster relief teams, immediate supplies, and cash. Clearly the Red Cross is capable of delivering programs efficiently. This makes it pretty clear the issue here is with the restrictions, requirements and outright barriers put in place by the King government.

The provincial government possesses basic information about Islanders—for example, information contained in the database of licensed drivers—that could be used to speed up the verification process and get money into the hands of Islanders who need it. It is unclear whether this government has taken any steps to assist the Red Cross to quickly verify applications for assistance. Currently, the Red Cross can only process 120 people in person a day.

We are calling on Premier King and the PCs to get their act together and provide support to its partner, the Canadian Red Cross. This Government should be ashamed at how it has left Islanders in the lurch and how it has set up its valued community partner to fail.

Hannah Bell, MLA Charlottetown-Belvedere
Official Opposition Green Critic for Finance

Karla Bernard, MLA Charlottetown-Victoria Park
Official Opposition Green Critic for Social Development and Housing