Federal grant delays cause hardships and closures, Indigenous groups say
Government says backlog of applications to blame for funding delays
Several B.C. Indigenous associations say they are facing funding shortfalls, and at least one says it is set to temporarily close, due to a delay receiving federal grants from the new Urban Programming for Indigenous Peoples (UPIP) program.
Emma Sutherland is the executive director of Red Fox Healthy Living Society, which is a Vancouver non-profit and charity that serves Aboriginal and inner-city children, youth and families.
She says 15 staff and 30 youth leaders will be laid off starting Monday because of a delay in UPIP funding.
"If I were to be fiscally responsible, I would have handed out pink slips to everybody last week," said Sutherland.
Kevin Barlow is the CEO for the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council. He says the delays have been challenging for some of its member organizations, as well as for the advocacy council.
"I almost had to lay my staff off about a month ago, and, luckily, we secured some funding from Vancouver Coastal Health," said Barlow.
He said one of their member associations, Aboriginal Front Door Society, had to rely on the advocacy council to help pay for staff and services, while it waits for UPIP funding to arrive.
Backlog of applications
The Department of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) launched UPIP in May to replace the Urban Partnerships (UP) program after it ended in March 2017.
According to the Government of Canada, the program is designed to help First Nations, Inuit and Métis people living or transitioning to urban centres.
In response to the delay, INAC said there was significant interest for some of the funding streams, with more than 500 applications requiring assessment from a National Review Committee.
They said recommendations are being finalized, and funding decisions are expected in the coming weeks.
Barlow says even if the funds are on the way, what money does come will likely be pro-rated for the final few months of the year.
"Work plans that were meant to be a full year get crunched into a four month period. It's not an effective way of using taxpayer dollars," Barlow said.
"I just think that the federal government has bungled this type of program."
Indigenous youth at risk
Sutherland says Red Fox has come to rely on iterations of this funding since 2011, which usually arrives in June or July.
"It's a significant amount. If an individual's paycheck was just all of a sudden cut by 20 percent, it would be hard to cover your bills," said Sutherland.
"I'm not sure what's going on, but the end result is youth who need these services and who are employed by these organizations are at risk of losing their jobs and losing their support systems," she said.
On Monday, Indigenous youth Verdann Evans, 25, is set to lose her job as a program co-ordinator at Red Fox Society. She's been working with them since the age of 18.
"Being in high school, I didn't think I would be alive to this age," Evans said.
"Through Red Fox, I could feel good. I could work with kids in our community. i could be there for our youth, who are also going through these really hard times," she said. "It's going to definitely be missed."
Sutherland says unless the UPIP grant comes in, Red Fox Society will be closed until January when some other grants are expected from partners.