THE federal government has announced a further $100 million in drought assistance, in the form of financial aid to farmers and rural communities.
New England MP and former special envoy on drought Barnaby Joyce said a key component of the funding was an additional $33.4 million, delivered under the Drought Community Support Initiative for immediate financial assistance to eligible households in hardship.
“Farming households can receive up to $3000 to spend in their local communities to cover urgent bills such as food, petrol and utilities, taking stress off families and boosting our local economies,” Mr Joyce said.
“Crucially, this payment is also available to farm workers and contractors many who are also struggling financially through a lack of work and deserve assistance as well.”
The government will work with the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society to make sure the money hits the ground quickly and gets to those most in need.
Mr Joyce said the funding follows his advocacy as the Special Envoy for Drought, where he delivered advice directly to the Prime Minister about what additional assistance was required in drought towns.
“People in the New England are at the epicentre of this drought and its effects are not just felt on the farm – regional communities and businesses suffer as people spend less in towns,” he said.
“That’s why during my time as the Drought Envoy, I put my shoulder to the wheel and advocated regularly to the Prime Minister and helped to deliver funding like this and the highly successful Drought Communities Programme, which provided every council in the New England with up to $1 million to spend as they saw fit in their communities.”
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Under the Drought Communities Programme Extension another 13 councils will have access to up to $1 million each to complete local infrastructure and drought-relief projects.
The government will also simplify Farm Household Allowance applications. The changes will remove business income reconciliation, change the time limit on payment to four years in every ten, simplify the assets test and recognise agistment.
“I fought to make sure we hosted a hearing of the Australia-wide FHA review here in the New England so local residents could have their say on these important changes,” Mr Joyce said.
“Some of the feedback from the Tamworth hearing we actually implemented into the changes such as a simplified application process.”
The government also announced an injection of $740,000 of contingency funding to five Rural Financial Counselling Service providers who are experiencing pressure from increased demand.
“It’s really important that those in need of support do not self-assess their eligibility and instead seek advice from an expert, like a rural financial counsellor,” he said.
For more information and to apply for assistance visit agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/drought or call 1800 900 090.