The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) has welcomed key elements of the ACT Government’s rescue and stimulus package announced today in response to the COVID-19 public health emergency.
The package includes support for low-income people through rates and rebates, a cash payment to housing tenants, funding for community organisations at the front line and a critical funding boost for Lifeline.
The Chief Executive Officer of ACTCOSS, Dr Emma Campbell, said that the package was a welcome ‘first wave’ response to the immediate effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the most vulnerable people-and the groups working with them-in the ACT community.
“Our Cost of Living and poverty work shows that low-income people, even before this crisis, were struggling, and now we have an unknown number of people facing layoffs due to the economic impact of this event. Low-income people are facing many unanticipated costs and disruptions from this crisis, including shortages of critical items,” Dr Campbell said.
“ACTCOSS is particularly pleased that the ACT Government will provide rental support of $250 for all public housing tenants in the coming months, as well as a one-off rebate for residential utility concession holders of $200 to help with power bills.
“We are also pleased to see rebates of $150 on residential rates to help ease cashflow pressures for Canberra households, as well as a freeze on a number of ACT Government fees and charges, including the fire and emergency services levy, public transport, vehicle registration and parking fees.
“Today also saw the release of the 2019 Australian Community Sector Survey which shows that even before the recent horrific summer and the onslaught of COVID-19, the ACT not-for-profit community service sector was struggling to meet demand.
“For that reason, we also welcome news that the ACT Government will work with non-government organisation partners to develop a $7 million Community Support Package to best meet increased service demand for emergency relief. These services face increased demands from people thrust into unemployment and who are struggling because of scarcity and panic buying,” Dr Campbell said.
“As the Chief Minister said this morning, we may need physical distancing, but it is our social proximity that will see us through. Community services are the joiners, givers and connectors that will help us at this difficult time, and we need community organisations to survive on the other side of all this.
“At a national level, the best thing the Federal Government could do to provide stimulus to the ACT economy would be to permanently Raise the Rate of Newstart by $95 a week. Raising the payment would create 12,000 jobs across Australia and increase wages by 0.2 per cent, a Deloitte report found in September of last year. Canberra was singled out as one of 20 areas across the country to benefit most from a rise.
“It is also the right thing to do, right now. Just as $40 a day is not enough for those who lose their jobs because of this public health emergency, $40 a day is not enough for anyone on an allowance,” Dr Campbell said.
ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.