Community Services Minister Kelly Regan speaks with Maj. Vaden Vincent, executive director at The Salvation Army Halifax Centre of Hope about the new Nova Scotia COVID Relief Fund. Photo: Communications Nova Scotia

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The Salvation Army in Nova Scotia says the $3.5 million it will receive to administer the new Nova Scotia COVID Relief Fund comes at a time when more people than ever are reaching out for help.

On Monday, the province announced $11.5 million in funding from the federal Safe Restart Agreement intended to help vulnerable Nova Scotians “continue to have the resources and protection they need” during this pandemic.

In a media release, the province’s Department of Community Services said several community groups and organizations throughout Nova Scotia have received funding ranging from $27,000 to the $3.5 million set aside for the relief fund administered by the Salvation Army.

A spokesperson for that organization said the new fund will help low-income Nova Scotians who’ve lost income due to the pandemic and are struggling to pay their home heating or electric bills. The fund provides a one-time, on-bill credit.

The maximum rebate is $400, and the funding is expected to help about 8,000 households in the province.

“We’re seeing the impacts now. In the early days of the pandemic, so last year this time, we actually noticed a bit of a drop in the amount of people that were coming because everything was so new, people were afraid to go out, and there was limited access,” Jamie Locke, a spokesperson with the Salvation Army’s Maritime Divisional Headquarters, said in an interview.

“Now, people are reaching out more than ever for help and the stories are becoming more and more difficult to listen to…They want to be able to provide food (for their children), and they’re worried about what the future looks like and what their employment looks like.”

Locke said the Salvation Army has been working with the province for several weeks to establish the parameters of its rebate program. The organization wanted to make the eligibility requirements as broad as possible in order to reach as many Nova Scotians in need as they could.

Details on eligibility (and the application) are available via a link on the Salvation Army’s website. People can also call for more information or access hard copies of the application form and apply at any Salvation Army location in Nova Scotia. Locke said the Salvation Army is grateful for the funding, especially since it came with no restrictions on when the money had to be spent. He said the organization will continue offering the rebates to eligible people until the money runs out.

“We’re hearing from our clients that they’re struggling in a multitude of ways to meet the household requirements of paying the bills, and oftentimes some very difficult decisions that nobody should ever have to make are being made,” Locke said.

“How do I cut back on the grocery spending so that we can continue to pay the light bill and cover the energy costs of our house? These are challenging days for many, particularly low income households. We see this contribution as being just one piece of being able to offer assistance.”

Locke said one of the benefits of the new fund is anyone who previously applied for assistance through the Salvation Army’s HEAT Fund can still apply for help via the new COVID relief fund.

“The sad reality is we know that this particular program is not going to alleviate all the stress that people are experiencing,” he said.

“We wish that that’s something that we could do that would help remove that entire financial burden from people. We just hope that it signals to people who are struggling that there’s some hope, and that this is a small offering of assistance that we hope will be meaningful to people who are struggling.”

In its media release, the province’s Department of Community Services said it used $700,000 from the fund to buy phones for Disability Support Program participants living independently. In addition, $1.7 million was used for COVID-19 related respite support for participants of the Disability Support Program who live at home with family and whose needs increased due to the pandemic.

Other community groups and organizations that received funding include:

Transition houses and other women-serving organizations across the province received an additional $600,000 for COVID-19 related supports, including personal protective equipment and sanitation supplies

More than $680,000 was provided for renovations to expand services to Pictou County Roots for Youth, Viola’s Place in New Glasgow, and Cape Breton Community Housing Association

The province earmarked $205,000 for three housing locators positions for Sydney, Kentville and Halifax/Colchester County, $45,000 for eviction prevention funds, and $27,000 to support homeless shelters in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak

A $40,000 contribution to Harvest House Community Outreach Association in Windsor supported the purchase of a new building to provide community services and outreach services

Autism Nova Scotia received $150,000 for COVID-19 related respite care for families not currently eligible for respite through the Department of Community Services

More than $400,000 helped support children in the care of the Minister with educational needs, and youth exiting the care of the Minister or ending their involvement with Youth Services with accommodations, food, transportation, internet costs and counselling services

Foster families and families being supported under the Alternative Family Care program received $213,000 to help cover costs of cleaning supplies, internet, at-home learning needs, respite support and accommodations for quarantining if necessary

The province said further investments include $180,000 to waive Pharmacare co-pay fees for income assistance clients, $276,000 to re-open adult day programs, and $300,000 provided to Feed Nova Scotia.

The $19-billion federal-provincial-territorial Safe Restart Agreement was announced on July 16, 2020. According to the province’s media release on Monday, Nova Scotia received about $289 million through the agreement.

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Yvette d’Entremont is a bilingual (English/French) journalist and editor who enjoys covering health, science, research, and education.

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