Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Evacuees slam reduction to daily living allowance

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OTTAWA -- Daily allowances for First Nations evacuees will be slashed by more than 80 per cent next month.

More than 2,000 people from six First Nations still live in hotels and apartments in Winnipeg and Brandon after flooding in the spring of 2011 forced them out of their homes.

Last week, they received a letter warning that as of Oct. 1, the daily living allowance will plummet to $4 from $23.40. The rate for children will fall to $3.20 from $18.70.

Rent and hotel bills will still be paid. Just 109 evacuees remain in hotels, 41 are in temporary housing near Gypsumville and the rest live in private accommodations.

"Over the course of the last year, we have moved past the emergency phase and are now in the long-term recovery phase," reads the letter.

It goes on to say the rates for recovery are set by the federal government's Disaster Finance Assistance program.

The letter asks evacuees to submit a copy of their rental agreement by Sept. 24 to confirm they meet acceptable rates.

Bertha Travers, who has been forced from her home in Little Saskatchewan First Nation since May 2011, said she doesn't understand why the governments have decided the flood has moved to the recovery phase.

"We are far from being in a recovery phase," she said "This is still a crisis."

Travers said her home is covered in mould and she doubts she will ever be able to move back into it. She is living in a Winnipeg hotel.

Manitoba Aboriginal Affairs Minister Eric Robinson said the evacuees should have been moved to the lower amount earlier but were not because of the unique circumstances of First Nations and the length of the evacuation. However, he said it's time to move forward.

"This is not playing hardball, this is the standard rate," he said.

The governments are studying what needs to be done to get houses on certain reserves back to livable shape. Some reserves, such as Lake St. Martin First Nation, said Robinson, need to decide what to do next.

Lake St. Martin is among the hardest hit. The community's 1,400 people haven't been able to return home since May 2011. Chronic flooding has made more than 80 per cent of the homes uninhabitable.

Robinson said the province bought land adjacent to the reserve so they can rebuild, but thus far the community has refused the option. Manitoba also purchased an old radar base near Gypsumville and has moved 60 furnished, modular homes onto it for temporary housing but just 13 of them are occupied.

"I don't know why they don't feel comfortable moving there," he said. "We were trying to accommodate what was requested."

Nobody will be forced to do something but the flooding crisis is in the past and decisions must be made, he said.

The federal aboriginal affairs department directed questions about the funding cut to the province. It is responsible for paying for the evacuation costs but the province administers the program.

The federal government's latest tally for evacuating First Nations from the 2011 flood is $51 million. However, that dates back to May 2012.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

2,038

Number of evacuees from First Nations as of Sept. 25, 2012

 

52

Number of evacuees from Pinaymootang First Nation

 

1,048

Number of evacuees from Lake St. Martin First Nation

 

252

Number of evacuees from Dauphin River First Nation

 

101

Number of evacuees from Ebb & Flow First Nation

 

383

Number of evacuees from Little Saskatchewan First Nation

 

202

Number of evacuees from Peguis First Nation

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 26, 2012 A4

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