'It's only getting harder': feds reboot drought social support

'It's only getting harder': feds reboot drought social support


Will these initiatives help? Govt extends funding for community programs and reforms the Farm Household Allowance.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie during a trip to Quilpie last year.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie during a trip to Quilpie last year.

Existing drought support programs have been bolstered by a funding commitment from the federal government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will fly to Queensland today, directly on his return from the United States, to announce the funding.

There's $33.42 million to resume the Drought Community Support Initiative, which can provide up to $3000 to eligible farming households, distributed by the Salvation Army, St Vincent de Paul Society and Rotary Australia World Community Service.

The Drought Communities Program will be extended with $13m to provide drought-affected local governments with up to $1m for local infrastructure and other relief projects.

There's $740,000 for the Rural Financial Counsellors, to advise farmers on their financial options.

Eligibility criteria for the Farm Household Allowance will be simplified to encourage more people to access payments of up to $600 a fortnight.

The FHA application process and eligibility criteria has been criticised as a limit factor resulting in low take-up by farmers. Currently 7000 of the 24,000 eligible farmers are accessing the FHA.

"I know that things are only getting harder for many farmers and rural communities, and that's why we are taking further action and providing even more support," Mr Morrison said.

"As I've said before, this isn't set and forget.

"Supporting drought-affected communities remains our government's most urgent priority."

Agriculture Minister Bridget McKenzie, said the government would "radically" reform the FHA following a review of the support measure, which revealed flaws.

"We know that FHA is a vital hand-up for farmers in times of need-but the Independent Review of Farm Household Allowance told us it could be improved," Senator McKenzie said.

"We will remove the requirement for business income reconciliation, change the time limit on payment from four years in total to four out of every ten years, simplify the assets test, recognise agistment as being part of primary production income, and redesign the application process. For the first time, couples will be able to apply for the payment using just one application.

"These changes will make FHA quicker and easier to access, better reflect the nature of farm businesses, and to acknowledge that farmers may experience more than one period of hardship in their lifetime.

"Some of these changes will require amendments to legislation, but through Centrelink we will implement as many of the changes to the application process immediately."

Drought Minister David Littleproud said the government had focused on alleviating farm family's hardship.

"Today's announcement further strengthens our drought response which includes concessional loans, farm management deposits, tax breaks, and mental health support," Mr Littleproud said.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said today's announcement was targeted at economic stimulus for drought-hit communities.


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