Extension of stimulus measures to vital community services sector welcome, larger rescue package needed

The Australian Council of Social Service has welcomed the extension of small business cashflow support to community services and charities in the second stimulus package, announced today, but highlights that a larger rescue package is needed, with community services on the frontline of responding to the COVID-19 health and social crisis.

Please see ACOSS’ previous statement for response to doubling of Newstart and Youth Allowance Job Seeker for 6 months.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of life already suffered and understand the community’s grave concerns about health and incomes,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.

“We must work together as a community to respond rapidly to the unfolding health and social crisis of COVID-19.

“The business cashflow support is vital to ensure that small business can stay afloat and keep people employed in the challenging conditions they now face. We welcome the extension of this support to the community services and charitable sector. This will ensure that community services with turnover up to $50 million pa will receive up to $100,000 cash to help that they can continue to employ their workers, pay their bills and deliver essential services during this period. We will be keen to ensure that securing employment and continuity of services is at the heart of this measure.

“While we acknowledge need to get payments to business quickly, it is important that keeping workers employed and services continuing is achieved. Community services are trying to respond to extraordinary community needs, with people in dire distress, many worried about needing to be isolated, very vulnerable, and in need. Issues of violence and mental health will also be acute.

“With an 80% female workforce, community services will continue to be caring for so many in the community, and caring is what is needed. Government needs to provide the right supports. See the ACOSS, COSS Network and ASU Joint Statement on the needed Community Services Rescue Package.

“Businesses must also continue to play their part. While the Government is providing financial relief to many in our community we still need companies that provide essential services such as energy, water, finance, rental housing and telecommunications to also provide relief by guaranteeing no disconnections, pause debt collection and legal/bankruptcy proceedings practices, and waive penalty and late fees, including additional interest charges. Now is not the time to put vulnerable people under more stress.

“Charities and not for profits employ more than 1.3 million people and contribute $128 billion to the national economy. They deliver services that many rely on including aged care, child care, disability services and homelessness services.

“Cashflow payments will make a real difference to the capacity of the charities and not for profit sector to continue to support people at most risk in our community during this health crisis and economic downturn.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the Federal Government to ensure that a range of other measures are introduced as soon as possible to ensure that charities and not for profits can meet the inevitable increase to demand that will occur as a result of this economic downturn.”

The Councils of Social Service Network, together with the Australian Service Union, on Friday outlined a number of key recommendations for the Government in dealing with this crisis, which are outlined below.

COVD-19 COMMUNITY SECTOR RESCUE PACKAGE RECOMMENDATIONS

The Councils of Social Service (COSS) Network and the Australian Services Union are calling on the Federal Government to support the community sector to respond to the COVID-19 health, social and economic crisis. Specifically the Federal Government should:

  1. Extend all business related stimulus measures to community sector and not for profit organisations.
  2. Create a Community Sector continuity of service enabling Fund to ensure continuity of service delivery, secure jobs, prevent loss of jobs or income, guaranteed paid special leave for all workers, and to enable ramp up of services for people in need as well ensure that services remain viable to assist with the recovery from the pandemic.
  3. Urgently respond to the specific asks of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations.
  4. Urgently provide program level funding to community services that rely on individual funding arrangements to stabilise workforce and allow for adaptation e.g. child care, employment and other services, out of home care, NDIS.
  5. Commit to restore funding for the Equal Remuneration Order implementation.
  6. Provide additional funding to housing and homelessness services, accommodation and residential services to purchase suitable safe housing for people who are living in rooming houses or accommodation, residential or group home services in overcrowded housing, or who are sleeping rough.
  7. Guarantee access to Personal Protected Equipment and other essential supplies including Food Supplies to ensure basic needs are met.
  8. Create maximum flexibility on contract requirements for government-funded organisations to enable responsiveness to changing community needs and crisis, for example:
    • Delay or relax reporting obligations;
    • Freeze government reform and new tendering processes;
    • Suspend KPIs and outcomes to allow for adaption to new conditions;
    • Remove penalties for non-compliance with contracts arising from COVID-19 Emergency; and
    • Allow flexibility in how funds are used to support community safely during COVID19.

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