Winter 2020

National Council: Emergency Relief

National Council Secretariat

On 29 May 2020, the Prime Minister announced an additional $200 million would be made available for Emergency Relief to meet the expected increase in the need for these services resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Emergency Relief National Coordination Group (NCG) was subsequently established to advise the Minister for Families and Communities, Senator Anne Ruston, on the distribution of Emergency Relief funds.

The NCG consists of leaders in the Emergency Relief sector, including the St Vincent de Paul Society, as well as the Australian Government Department of Social Services.

In addition to being represented on the committee by our CEO National Council: Emergency Relief Toby oConnor, the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council is contracted to provide secretariat services to the NCG.

Pat McKenna was seconded to fill this role in April, from his ordinary duties at St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn as Director of Strategy and Transition.

The NCG has already produced a report to Minister Ruston advising on the areas of greatest need for Emergency Relief services.

We are seeing Temporary Visa holders as the main group who require Emergency Relief at present.

Many Temporary Visa holders have lost their jobs and are not eligible for income support— they have no income and many have no savings. Another group in need are those living in areas that were already impacted by bushfire or drought, which is now further compounded by the economic downturn from COVID-19—gaining employment in these areas is particularly difficult.

The item most requested by people in need of Emergency Relief is food. Emergency Relief Providers are instrumental in the distribution of goods from Foodbank, which has experienced a significant spike in demand since the beginning of this year, beginning with the bushfires, then COVID-19, and now the second wave.

The graph below shows the quantity of Foodbank goods distributed to people in need this year (blue line) compared to the average of last year (orange line). Foodbank ordinarily sources its food through donations from supermarkets and farms,

but the high demand this year requires staples such as rice and pasta to be procured with the Government’s additional Emergency Relief funds (grey line).

Foodbank: Tonnes of food delivered to people in need so far in 2020.

As I write this article, I am breathing a sigh of relief that JobKeeper and the JobSeeker Supplement have been extended, albeit at a reduced rate. The NCG was particularly concerned about the conclusion of these supports which was set to occur as rent moratoriums ended also.

The reduction of subsidised wages in a struggling economy could lead to further job losses. Those who have accumulated

rental debts will be asked to commence repayments soon. For those who receive income support, we hope the rate will not be tapered back to its starting point of $40 per day—well below the poverty line. We will continue to advocate to ‘raise the rate’.

While the future remains uncertain, we can certainly expect to see further hardship moving forward for people who are unable to find employment or are working average significantly reduced hours. Our members, volunteers and employees are working hard to provide them with a hand-up.

♦ Patrick McKenna is National Coordinator, COVID-19 Emergency Relief Program: Emergency Relief Support National Coordination Group – Coronavirus and beyond.

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