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Red Cross talks frustrating funding delays

The Red Cross continues to operate out of St. Christopher’s Hotel in Port aux Basques to help residents register and verify identities to qualify for provincial relief funds. – © Canadian Red Cross

By Jaymie White,

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

PORT AUX BASQUES — By now, individuals and families have been frequenting the Red Cross in Port aux Basques to register and confirm their identities in order to avail of the emergency provincial funding that was announced in the days immediately following post-tropical depression Fiona. The amounts being distributed by the Red Cross in Newfoundland and Labrador are $1,000 for residents who were displaced temporarily, but returned to their home before Sept. 30, and $10,000 to those permanently displaced. But many who have qualified have yet to receive any of that money, even though they’ve been told wait times to receive it are typically just a day or two.

Dan Bedell, Communications Director of the Atlantic Region with the Canadian Red Cross, said progress is being made on processing the payments for households who did qualify for the funding.

“We’ve had over 93,190 households registered with the Red Cross and the majority of those don’t actually have significant damage,” said Bedell. “Out of those households registered, 990 are in Newfoundland and Labrador. That represents 1,836 people, but we are focused mostly on the couple hundred households that really have significant impacts and may qualify for one of the two payments. So already, as of today, for that $1,000 payment, funding has already been issued to 102 households and it’s actually a larger amount for the $10,000 amount – 132 have been processed now. Between those two numbers, that’s close to $1.4 million that’s been distributed already.”

Bedell added that processing times vary based on the time it takes for proper authentication.

“Applications are being processed, but some others do take time to do the authentication and, because these are government funds and government programs, we do need to verify the people that have applied, in fact, are residents of the address they indicate and are in the impacted area and the provincial government advised us that they would qualify for these funds based on what they know about the damage in the area of the addresses and that sort of thing.”

Bedell explained that another reason there may be delays for households would be the method in which they chose for their payment to be delivered. E-transfers, the fastest option, is only available to those who are receiving $1,000 payments. If a household is eligible for the $10,000 payment, they are eligible to have the funds put onto a prepaid card or to have a cheque mailed out to them. Both of those options require additional processing times.

At the same time, on social media, concerns have been raised by individuals who have had significant wait times while at the Red Cross, sometimes as long as five hours, to receive a gift card to help with food costs. Those who are able to stay with family members are not eligible for financial support, even though that means their families must bear the burden of extra costs associated with taking them in.

Bedell said they are working toward lowering wait times for those requiring authentication and assistance.

“As more and more people are processed through in person in Port aux Basques, those wait times will become less and less,” said Bedell. “The other thing we did today (Oct. 19) is some of the team in Port aux Basques went over to Burgeo – which is a considerable drive – because we knew there were people in that area that were impacted, and because of mobility, age, or other issues made it so they couldn’t possibly make that drive there and back and possibly wait in line. So we sent a team to Burgeo. They worked out of the town hall yesterday and today. They went there specifically so those people didn’t have to make the trip to Port aux Basques. We made the trip to them rather than them coming to us. Now they are looking at doing something similar in some of the outlying communities, so we can save people the time and expense of making the trip to Port aux Basques.”

Bedell said this, along with them trying to set as many people as possible up with specific times to come in to avoid the lineup will help to ease the wait times people.

The Red Cross operations in Port aux Basques has its own costs, which are also being covered by the provincial government.

“The costs of us having that operation in Port aux Basques is primarily to deliver on the provincial government $1,000 or $10,00 payment. That contract includes covering the operational costs of bringing people in. We, in fact, had chartered with one of the taxi companies, so it’s not costing $1,000 a person or anything like that, but the reason that most of them are staying in Stephenville is actually at the request of the government of Newfoundland. They wanted to keep motel space available in Port aux Basques because there are so many families there who need hotel space. We didn’t want to be taking away from what the community needs,” explained Bedell.

One of the reasons a cab company was chartered was primarily safety.

“We do not like putting them on a dark road, driving late at night, in an area they are not familiar with, so there is an expense there for taxis, but it’s a matter of safety for people,” explained Bedell. “That’s not coming out of the money that’s been made available for dispersal for the families. There’s an administrative component to the contract that covers costs, and each time we add something new, like sending a team out to Burgeo, that’s discussed ahead of time with the provincial government, because we are acting on their behalf and they need to authorize these expenditures.”

The Red Cross is operating at St. Christopher’s Hotel from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday to Sunday.

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