The Indigenous Community Support Fund and Other COVID-19 Assistance for Indigenous Governments

In recent weeks, the Federal Government has announced numerous support programs to assist Canadians in dealing with the health and economic impacts of COVID-19. Special supports for Indigenous governments were announced early on, but the details of those supports were only recently made fully available.

Introduction

There are two key aspects of the assistance plan. The first aspect, which was rolled out in the early stages of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 response, is to provide Indigenous governments with financial assistance through existing channels. The second aspect is the Indigenous Community Support Fund originally announced on March 18, 2020, the details of which have only recently become available. We will discuss each aspect of the assistance plan in turn.

Existing Support Channels for Indigenous Governments

The Federal Government announced $100 million in aid will be distributed through a number of existing channels to cut down on the administrative steps Indigenous governments need to take to access aid funds. First, funding for public health-related emergency expenditures is being distributed – on a reimbursement basis – through the First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and the First Nations Health Authority, depending on the province or territory the recipient Indigenous government is situated in.

Some examples of eligible public health-related emergency expenditures include:

  • the expenditures related to infection prevention (e.g. soaps and sanitizers);
  • medical transportation;
  • hiring additional nurses and other health providers to respond to the surge in healthcare needs;
  • mental health services;
  • adapting community spaces to facilitate health service delivery; and
  • food security initiatives.

Other types of expenses may also be eligible on a case-by-case basis. Indigenous governments may also utilize the Emergency Assistance Program to cover other COVID-19 response expenses, including:

  • expenditures related to paying temporary staff and overtime;
  • renting special equipment;
  • operating emergency response vehicles;
  • improving communications capacity; and
  • securing water, food and other household supplies to prevent any anticipated shortages.

Finally, Indigenous governments may use funding earmarked for Child and Family Services (“CFS”) where those funds are used by an Indigenous government’s CFS agency to respond to COVID-19-related needs of specific children. For further details about how Indigenous governments may access support from the channels described above, including a template for funding requests, and information about how Indigenous governments may access personal-protective equipment, please visit Canada’s First Nations Community Guide on Accessing Additional Supports.

The Indigenous Community Support Fund

The second key aspect of the Federal Government’s assistance plan for Indigenous governments was the recently-detailed Indigenous Community Support Fund (the “Fund”).  The Fund represents a $305 million investment in Indigenous government aid. Of that $305 million, specific amounts are allocated to First Nations on a population, remoteness and well-being basis; with other amounts allocated to Inuit, Métis Nation and regional and urban Indigenous organizations. The Federal Government explained in a recent news release that the “new funds will flow directly to Indigenous communities and groups across the country and will provide Indigenous leadership with the flexibility needed to address the immediate needs in their communities”. The release goes on to suggest the funds can be used to support Elders and vulnerable community members, implement food security measures, provide educational and other support for children, support mental health initiatives and fund infection prevention measures, among other things. Fundamentally, the Fund is intended to support a distinctions-based approach to service delivery on the ground in Indigenous communities. This is consistent with the Principles respecting the Government of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous peoples that the Federal Government published in 2018. The central idea is that Indigenous governments should be empowered to make the decisions that are right for their communities, and should not be forced into poorly devised one-size-fits all solutions prescribed by the Federal Government. From a practical perspective, the distinctions-based approach of the Fund gives Indigenous governments the flexibility to make the COVID-19 response decisions that are right for them.

Different groups will access the Fund in different ways. Indigenous governments do not need to apply to receive their allocated money from the Fund. Most Indigenous governments will receive funding directly from Indigenous Services Canada. Métis will receive funding through other existing mechanisms without further application.

In contrast, national, regional, urban and off-reserve organizations must apply for a disbursement from the Fund. The application process requires organizations to set out a proposal for how they intend to use the funds, and proposals must generally relate to delivering services for Indigenous people living off-reserve. The proposal must detail the objectives and activities that will be undertaken, the timelines and budget for project delivery, the expected program outcomes and the deliverables that will result from the project. The application deadline is April 13, 2020. More information about the precise kinds of activities that may receive funding and the proposal assessment criteria can be found at the program’s dedicated page on Canada’s website.

If you have any questions about the information we have provided above, please do not hesitate to reach out to a member of our Aboriginal law team. We will be happy to assist however we can.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.