The National Council’s Drought Relief Team is receiving between 200 and 300 applications a week from people in remote and regional Australia who are feeling the ongoing impact of one of the worst droughts in Australia’s history.
Paddocks might be green in some places, but it takes a while for income from crops and depleted stock numbers to make its way to peoples’ bank accounts.
Every day, people in our call centre hear heartbreaking stories about folk who are living with the triple whammy of the drought, the bushfires and now COVID-19.
Vinnies and The Salvation Army are distributing the Federal Government’s Drought Community Support Initiative, a grant which pays up to $3,000, to farm households, farm workers and business operating in drought-declared areas. Round 1 was available from mid-2019 and round 2 has been available since December last year.
As of 24 July 2020, the Drought Relief Team had assisted over 10,000 applicants and distributed over $31 million dollars in DCSI 2 funds.
We are receiving applications from across Australia. There’s a consistent story from from many regional communities: cash flow is depleted, and while some areas have had rain, it has been patchy in most areas, with some parts still desperately waiting in hope.
We received money from both rounds of the Drought
Community Support Initiative through Vinnies. We run a small
beef herd. We will not have any
farm income for another year
at least, so the support helped us
buy food and pay for electricity.
We had a small casual off-farm
income, but COVID-19 has made that difficult too. We can’t crop because of the nature of our
but at least we have grass
now. After four years of drought,
the bushfires and now COVID-19
we are just worn out. Vinnies has
been great, no judgement, just
thoughtful help. ♦
We used the payment to help
buy groceries and pay bills.
I was really grateful for that.
Overwhelmed, actually, because
I was in a pretty bad spot. ♦
– Sonja, Broken Hill farmer.
And typical of country folk, the people most in need of the funding are shy to come forward, often telling us that their neighbour or friend needs the assistance more than they do.
For that reason, we are acutely aware of the Vincentian ethos of seeking out the ‘poor’ as we continue the drought relief work. Inspired by The Rule, Vincentians are encouraged to strive to seek out people in need.
The experience of these communities requires us to think differently about what emergency assistance and support means. A $3,000 cash payment might represent an insignificant dent in the cash deficits our pastoralist and agricultural communities are facing.
But we are hearing that the $3,000 helps with household expenses and is having a significant impact on morale, not just for individual farming households, but in the community where these funds are spent.
The early indication from applicants surveyed shows that the DCSI funds are enough to tackle some of the essential household bills, providing reprieve even for a short while.
In line with The Rule which calls us to adapt to a changing world, the Drought Relief Team has been agile in its approach to engaging, assessing, and supporting farming communities, within the limits of COVID-19.
Our ability to move within communities and drawing on personal relationships to help spread the word to people who need a hand has been severely hampered. Instead, we are thinking outside the box, listening to the advice of key community stakeholders, and reaching out in new, and sometimes unorthodox ways to ensure people living with the impact of the drought and in some cases, bushfires and COVID, know that we are there and that help is available.
Our heart-felt thanks to each of the local conferences around Australia who have spread the news about this initiative. Your valuable efforts are very much appreciated, especially in light of the extraordinary demands on your resources in such unprecedented times.
We are now halfway through delivering this project, and we look forward to working with you to help people in your local communities who need a bit of a hand because of the drought right now.
♦ Cassandra Bull is National Manager, Drought Relief Program, St Vincent de Paul Society National Council.