Payment delays leave Nunavut college students in financial distress
Family Services Department says paperwork backlog, ransomware slowed new semester funding
Ann Rose Totalik is studying early childhood education at the Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit.
She supports her young daughter and infant through student financial assistance — money she also needs for rent —but on Tuesday, she, along with many other college students in Nunavut, still hadn't received any funding for this semester.
Totalik last received a deposit in mid-December meaning she went more than a month without new income.
She receives FANS funding (Financial Assistance for Nunavut Students), she says the mid-month payment is much less than the payment on the first of the month, because the expectation is students have already paid the month's rent.
When she called on Jan. 6. to see why her January payment didn't come in, she was told there were system delays, and that she would have to wait up to seven more business days.
Those seven days came and went.
"I called back this morning and asked them about the payment and the lady I talked to said I had to wait another three days to get my payment," she said on Tuesday. "It's been kind of hard, right now, for the last month I've been getting help from my parents to put food on the table for my daughter."
Her funding came through on Wednesday, only a day after she called a second time.
On Thursday, the government of Nunavut's Department of Family Services told CBC News that most students should have received their payments by now. And, payments for mid-January were also on time.
The department said there was a backlog of paperwork used to process the payments and that a ransomware attack on the governments network continues to cause delays.
"The Department of Family Services apologizes for the inconvenience and thanks students for their patience," the department wrote in an email.
"We would like to take this opportunity to remind students that they must submit their Student Enrolment Forms for the winter term in order to receive payments."
It's those forms that need to be approved before payments are issued.
'We can't do it on our own'
For Tanya Tucktoo, the funding delay was uncomfortably long, because her family was running out of food.
She is studying office administration in Iqaluit and supports her three young children and partner, who looks after the children while she's studying.
The family moved to Iqaluit from Taloyoak in the fall. Tucktoo said she moved for the program, so she could have a career that pays enough to support her family.
Her student funding ALTS (Adult Learning and Training Supports) pays about $800 dollars every two weeks. She found out last week that her payments wouldn't come through until this week.
"When I found out on Friday that I had to wait another three days without food, I tried to stay strong," she said.
Later, she was visiting a relative who shared a meal, meant for one, with the family of five.
"My daughter asked if she had any juice, and my auntie said no. Then my daughter asked if she had money, and my auntie started crying and saying she's got nothing," Tucktoo said. "That's when I knew I had to do something, because we can't do it on our own."
She posted on Facebook about the funding delays and asked for help. People from the community brought groceries, cooked dinners and country food.
"After the first and second boxes and bags of food I realized it was worth it to ask because my kids were really happy," Tucktoo said.
Like Totalik, Tucktoo also received her funding this week.