Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Kwe. Tansi. Ulaakut.
I would like to acknowledge that we are on the traditional territory of the Algonquin people.
As of May 5, we have seen 161 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in first nations communities on reserve and 16 in Inuit communities, focused in the Nunavik region.
I also want to take a second to address what was made public a few days ago with respect to a false positive case in Pond Inlet. This was confirmed, luckily, earlier in the week, to the relief of many Canadians. Again, the lesson from this is that we need to stay vigilant, because we know that the pre-existing conditions in these communities make them exceedingly vulnerable. Vigilance is key, particularly with a pandemic that we have yet to fully understand.
In order to help indigenous communities cope with COVID-19, our government has provided more than $740 million in direct support to help first nations, Inuit, and Métis communities address their public health needs.
So far, more than $59.8 million has been used to buy equipment for medical personnel and to support community-led preparation measures. This money is in addition to the investments made in budget 2019, in which our government provided $79.86 million for health emergency readiness. These investments helped in developing a network of regional coordinators and enhancing the ability of first nation communities to deal with health emergencies and pandemics.
Indigenous Services Canada continues to maintain a stockpile of personal protective equipment and hand sanitizer to give to first nations communities dealing with a health emergency situation. This stockpile is available to first nations communities that might need personal protective equipment to ensure the safety of health care workers and others supporting the delivery of health services in an emergency health situation, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.
As of May 5, yesterday, we have shipped 731 orders for personal protective equipment, including hand sanitizers, N95 masks, isolation shields and gloves to first nations communities with five orders in progress. The amounts constitute more than 167,850 gowns and more than 202,000 surgical masks to complement supplies provided by provinces and territories. We continue to respond quickly to requests and to assess them within a 24-hour turnaround time.
I would like to underscore that many communities and service providers are adapting their operations to respect the requirement for physical distancing. National indigenous organizations, such as Thunderbird Partnership Foundation and First Peoples Wellness Circle, have developed a series of resources related to COVID-19 that are available to everyone online.
One of our supports has been to financially assist the First Peoples Wellness Circle in developing an online platform for its network of local, multidisciplinary mental wellness teams that are currently offering services to 344 communities. We've increased the number of crisis intervention counsellors on shift at the Hope for Wellness helpline, which is now receiving more than 100 calls or chats a week linked to COVID-19. This experience of self-isolation and physical distancing of family members who may be at higher risk or might fall ill can have a significant and real impact on mental health. We recognize this and are engaged with partners to support solutions to address and bolster mental health, particularly for youth.
Support for aboriginal youth is another priority sector. The department is working with its indigenous partners, including youth organizations, to support and promote indigenous resources for young people.
For example, the Canadian Roots Exchange has set up the creation community support fund to support youth mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic with local solutions. Similarly, We Matter is an indigenous-led youth organization focused on life promotion and messages of hope and resilience. They have developed tool kits for youth, teachers and support workers to help youth and those who support youth.
We are aware that post-secondary students are facing an unprecedented situation because of COVID-19. On April 22, the Prime Minister announced up to $9 million in funding for post-secondary students and recent graduates, including aboriginal students.
Nevertheless, we know that many aboriginal students are dealing with specific and unique situations either related to financial stability, job opportunities or simply the chance to continue their studies as planned. That is why an additional $75.2 million will be provided specifically in support of first nations, Inuit and Métis post-secondary students as they deal with COVID-19. This amount is in addition to the existing financial aid programs for aboriginal post-secondary students. This support could be used to cover the cost related to buying computer equipment as courses move online, registration fees, groceries, support payments, housing and transportation, and, should graduation be delayed, cover an extra year of university and related expenses.
At the end of the day, this assistance is meant to ensure that post-secondary aboriginal students can continue or begin their studies as planned despite the obstacles put up by COVID-19.
We are also taking steps to support indigenous-owned businesses during this crisis. The Government of Canada will provide up to $306.8 million in funding to help small and medium-sized indigenous businesses through the network of aboriginal financial institutions that offer financing to indigenous businesses. This measure will help an estimated 6,000 indigenous-owned businesses during this difficult time and will hopefully provide the stability they need to persist.
Indigenous businesses, including indigenous government-owned corporations and partnerships, are also now eligible to apply for the Canada emergency wage subsidy to support them in their efforts to retain and rehire laid-off employees and weather their current challenges. Taxable indigenous government-owned corporations are already eligible for the wage subsidy.
The government has also established a business credit availability program to provide $40 billion in additional support through the Business Development Bank of Canada and Export Development Canada, which are working together with private sector lenders to coordinate credit solutions for individual businesses. Some indigenous businesses may be able to leverage these solutions as well.
As you may recall, on March 18 the Government of Canada allocated $305 million towards a new distinctions-based indigenous community support fund to address immediate needs related to COVID-19 in indigenous communities and among urban indigenous populations. This funding is part of the COVID-19 economic response plan and is in addition to needs-based support for first nations and Inuit health and emergency management.
As part of this indigenous community support fund, we are working to support first nations off reserve and urban indigenous populations. We recently concluded proposal-based processes to distribute $15 million to organizations that provide critical services to first nations off reserve and to indigenous peoples living in urban centres. So far 94 proposals by organizations from coast to coast to coast have been supported through this fund. This includes support for friendship centres as they continue their important work to serve urban indigenous communities in the face of this pandemic. We know that friendship centres are playing a crucial role in providing key support, which ranges from delivering food to families, young people and elders to responding to calls for assistance to providing support for mental health and cultural support for urban indigenous communities.
As our response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues and adapts to new data, we ask indigenous communities and partners to continue to assess their evolving needs. We ask them to reach out to their regional departmental contacts so that we may assist them in supporting community members.
I want to take this final moment, Mr. Chair, to express again my deepest sympathies to the Canadian Armed Forces. Our thoughts and prayers go to the military personnel who lost their lives in the helicopter crash in the Ionian Sea, and their families. Canada is grieving with them as we all try to come to grips with this tragic accident.
Let me conclude by saying that the government has designed and supported the measures I've described earlier today to provide timely and direct support to all Canadians in response to this unprecedented crisis. These measures offer timely financial support to indigenous peoples in Canada in particular, no matter where they reside. We are working with our partners for all Canadians.
Meegwetch. Nakurmiik. Merci. Thank you.