COVID-19 disaster payments were ‘too low’ and eligibility checks ‘too onerous’ to help thousands of locked-down Victorians, advocates say

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  • The federal government’s COVID-19 disaster payment was too small and its eligibility requirements too strict to help many Victorians through the latest lockdown, advocates say.
  • Access to the payment, which offered up to $500 a week to workers who lost hours as a result of the lockdown, is slated to close at midnight.
  • “The government made the eligibility criteria so narrow that many Victorians will have missed out,” said Victorian Council of Social Services CEO Emma King.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia’s homepage for more stories.

The federal government’s new COVID-19 disaster payment was too small and its eligibility requirements too “onerous” to help thousands of Victorians who lost work during the state’s latest lockdown, unions and social service advocates say.

Last Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that Canberra would provide payments of up to $500 a week to workers whose hours were cut due to industry shutdowns and widespread stay-at-home orders.

Some industry groups and businesses welcomed the payment, saying it would provide a safety net for those hardest-hit by the shutdown.

But the scheme also faced scrutiny for its tight eligibility criteria, which barred anyone who already received a welfare payment, and those with more than $10,000 in savings.

Now, just hours before Victoria steps down its restrictions, Victorian Council of Social Services CEO Emma King fears hard-hit workers would have missed out entirely.

“The Federal Government’s COVID Disaster Recovery Payment is a dud,” King told Business Insider Australia. “It’s providing some welcome relief to those who are receiving it, but the government made the eligibility criteria so narrow that many Victorians will have missed out.”

Austudy recipients and those who collect the Parenting Payment are among those who would have missed out by virtue of already receiving a Commonwealth support, King said, leaving many Victorians in financial distress while their employment was impacted.

“The question workers without pay have been asking, and are still asking, is ‘Can I afford to eat, pay the rent, turn on the heater?'” said Tim Kennedy, national secretary of the United Workers Union.

The union represents full-time and casual workers in the restaurant and hospitality industries, which drastically cut their services during the lockdown.

Kennedy told Business Insider Australia the disaster payment overcame a key flaw in the JobKeeper scheme by applying to casual workers, who were not eligible to participate in the $90 billion wage subsidy.

But the new payment “failed in being too low and too onerous for people to access,” he said.

“This payment is not charity, it is part of the compact we make with each other to get through this pandemic — we are not safe unless we are all safe.”

Early analysis suggests the payment was far narrower in scope than the JobKeeper subsidy.

Guardian Australia reports that of 21,000 payment applications filed on Tuesday, just 5,500 payments had been finalised by Wednesday.

And for those hardest-hit by lockdowns, the financial damage is acute.

Tenants Victoria states that of 1,112 renters who’d previously reached out for support, average losses linked to the lockdown totaled $817, with 53% of surveyed tenants saying the snap restrictions impacted their ability to pay rent.

Melbourne’s federal COVID-19 hotspot designation is set to lift at midnight, meaning workers will no longer be able to access the payment.

With new occupancy limits set to constrain hospitality businesses from Friday, both VCOSS and the UWU have called for continual federal support.

Canberra “must broaden the eligibility, and make sure the payment continues for as long as people remain in need,” King said.