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A woman and children who were stranded by high water due to flooding are rescued by a volunteer operating a boat in Abbotsford, B.C., on Nov. 16, 2021.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

The British Columbia government is overhauling its program that provides assistance after a disaster, making more people and businesses affected by last November’s catastrophic flooding immediately eligible for help.

A statement from the Ministry of Public Safety and Solicitor General says changes to the Disaster Financial Assistance program will increase benefits to those in need and pay some expenses right away, rather than waiting until all the bills have been submitted.

The statement says more farmers, small businesses and rental unit owners who didn’t meet the program’s previous financial qualifications can apply for assistance during the reopened application period, which extends to July 27.

A loophole is also being removed so farmers or small business owners who hold their family home in the name of a corporation can make claims for loss or damage, something that was not allowed under the previous regulations.

Emergency Management BC says the changes will encourage local governments to invest in critical recovery through a revision to the cost-sharing formula that reduces a community’s share of the total repair bill to between five and 10 per cent, down from 20 per cent.

The province says it will also speed recovery planning and ease cash flow challenges facing First Nations and local governments by immediately paying a portion of major repair costs, rather than waiting until the end of the project.

The limitations of B.C.’s Disaster Financial Assistance program and the need for quick changes were highlighted by last November’s flooding, which ripped up roads, bridges and other infrastructure and forced thousands from their homes, said Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth.

“These changes will help ensure people, First Nations and local governments impacted by severe flooding aren’t facing insurmountable costs, and will improve the program so we can respond faster next time and provide more support to those impacted,” he said in the statement.

Preliminary response and recovery costs associated with the floods are estimated at more than $4-billion, but the ministry said the total was still being refined as rebuilding continues and local governments clarify and submit recovery plans.

Emergency Management BC said it had received more than 2,200 applications for assistance from individuals, small businesses, farms, charitable organizations and local governments affected by the floods and more than $5.3-million has already been paid out.

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