Council calls for extension to Federal stimulus lifeline

A person changes a store sign to

Yarra Ranges Council is urging the Federal Government to extend its JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs past September 2020, amidst growing concerns for the longer term social and economic impacts of COVID-19 on local communities.

Whilst we welcome the Federal government’s recent $2.5 billion announcement around investment in the JobTrainer stimulus program, and see the benefits for our community, particularly our young people, we still believe a tailored approach to JobKeeper and JobSeeker is required.

Recent predictions of a -14% contraction in the Yarra Ranges economy and concerns about future employment opportunities for young people were painting a grim picture, particularly given the second phase of Stage 3 lockdowns currently being experienced by the Melbourne metropolitan area and Mitchell Shire.

Yarra Ranges Mayor Richard Higgins said Council feared a devastating financial and social crisis for Yarra Ranges and other municipalities for the foreseeable future if the current economic stimulus measures did not continue.

“There’s no doubt the Federal Government’s stimulus packages including JobKeeper and JobSeeker have helped many businesses stay afloat and keep their staff employed, while also providing a lifeline to many other people who have found themselves unemployed as a result of the pandemic,” Cr Higgins said.

“In the grip of a second wave of the pandemic, and the subsequent six-week lockdown period we are currently experiencing it is going to be very difficult for many businesses and people to recover from this if the current financial stimulus packages do not continue.”

Cr Higgins said Council had recently undertaken a number of studies and outreach activities to gain a better understanding of the short and long-term impacts of both COVID-19 and the associated lockdown restrictions.

“Some of the key findings of this work are startling, particularly the expected -14 per cent contraction in Yarra Ranges’ economy, and a forecast 20.5% decrease in Yarra Ranges’ Gross Regional product, which equates to a loss of around $1.35 billion,” he said.

“COVID-19 is having a crippling effect on many industries especially those in tourism. While typically we would welcome around 6.6 million visitors each year to the Yarra Ranges, we are not likely to see those numbers again for some time to come.”

Cr Higgins said Council also had significant concerns around future employment opportunities for the 17.6 per cent of young adults aged 15-24 currently engaged in the Yarra Ranges workforce.

“We recently undertook a survey of young adults that identified 49% of respondents had lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19.”

“This information was collected before this second phase of Stage 3 lockdown restrictions. Those results are likely to be much worse when we run that survey again later this year.”

“Council has been contacted by many people in our community needing support, ranging from business owners struggling to stay afloat, to people who, although once thriving, have suddenly found themselves in a vulnerable position.

“Increases in mental health issues, homelessness, family violence incidents, substance abuse and social isolation are a very sad but real predicament for our region.

“We urge the Federal Government to extend its JobSeeker and JobKeeper programs,” he said.

“To end those programs in September would be putting off the inevitable – to extend them would provide millions of people with greater certainty, hope and optimism during what has become an extraordinarily challenging time.

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