Lifeline for Covid food aid?

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

Greater Dandenong Council is hopeful that its 200-tonne food relief program will be given a six-month lifeline but other Covid-19 support measures are set to wind up.

The food relief program for the council’s most vulnerable residents was introduced at the start of Covid shutdowns in March 2020, delivering up to 3500 food boxes a week.

A council spokesperson said there were “positive discussions” with the State Government to keep supporting material aid until the end of September.

“In addition to Material Aid Relief, the partnership could include working with and supporting community agencies on communication regarding Covid-19 and vaccination for our diverse community.”

The possible lifeline coincides with the recent windup of the federal JobKeeper program, which is feared to put thousands of jobs at risk in the region.

However, the council has at this stage ruled out a repeat of rates waivers and commercial rent relief offered in 2020.

After spending nearly $20 million on Covid relief, the council ruled out further aid in its 2021-’22 budget, mayor Angela Long said.

“Pensioners got two lots (of $100 rates waivers) in two financial years automatically. If you were on Job Seeker, you could apply for $200 (rates) relief.

“We’ve spent a fairly significant amount of money in the last financial year to keep our employees employed.

“We’ve been very lucky in the council that we’ve kept all our employees in a job. It may not have been the same job, but they’re still in a job.”

Cr Long said the council would “play it by ear” if there were further lockdowns or hardships.

Ratepayers can still apply for relief under the council’s hardship policy.

The material aid program has delivered an estimated 200-plus tonnes of material aid in its first 12 months.

The council had pitched in $410,000 for the program, with businesses donating about $50,000 of goods.

Prior to the latest possible rescue grant, the State Government had contributed $350,000.