'We're at breaking point': Australian charities welcome revised JobKeeper threshold as demand for help surges

Australian charities have welcomed the relaxed eligibility requirements for charity workers to qualify for the JobKeeper coronavirus wage scheme.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has seen a surge in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has seen a surge in demand amid the coronavirus pandemic. Source: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Australian charities have welcomed the revised threshold at which they can apply for the federal government's new JobKeeper Payment, with one warning it is already at “breaking point” as it tries to help refugees cope with coronavirus fallout.

Not-for-profit charities can now apply for the JobKeeper benefit if they’ve suffered a 15 per cent hit to revenue because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Previously, charities with a turnover of less than $1 billion needed to record a drop in revenue of at least 30 per cent to be eligible to access the scheme.

The $130 billion program, under which workers get a fortnightly pay of $1,500 per person through their employers, is set to be approved in parliament on Wednesday.

It's come at a much-needed time for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), which said it has been “inundated with people” seeking its support as the COVID-19 crisis unfolds.

"We’re at absolute breaking point," chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis told SBS News.

"We’ve never faced such a challenge. We’ve never seen such a desperate need,” he said.

“We’re sitting here thinking if we can’t find a way to help these families this pandemic could kill them.” 

Asylum Seeker Resource Center chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis.
Asylum Seeker Resource Center chief executive Kon Karapanagiotidis. Source: AP

The ASRC has kept its doors open throughout the coronavirus crisis but is finding it harder to find food supplies and accommodation for refugee families in need. 

Mr Karapanagiotidis said he expects a significant hit to the charity's returns as the economic uncertainty strains donations and clouds the future of fundraisers.

“This is the great struggle right now that we are facing,” he said. 

“We’re in this impossible position of how many do we house and feed and medically care for?”

The federal government estimates more than 1.3 million Australians work in the charity sector across 57,000 organisations.

“A reduced threshold at which a charity is considered to be substantially affected ... will support a sector which is expected to have a significant increase in demand for its services,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said in a statement.  

A survey has found the impacts of the coronavirus recession continue to weigh heavily on asylum seekers.
A survey has found the impacts of the coronavirus recession continue to weigh heavily on asylum seekers. Source: Asylum Seeker Resource Centre

Community Council for Australia chair Tim Costello said the “heavy lifting” of the charity sector plays a vital role in Australia’s welfare safety net.

“We unusually have so much of our safety net structured through charities,” he said. “This is why keeping charities afloat - is literally keeping afloat people who are vulnerable or are otherwise at risk.” 

He said changes to the JobKeeper Payment would help ensure the survival of charities that would otherwise be at risk.

“This will actually allow them to keep staff - to keep providing some services rather than laying them off."

Catholic Social Services Australia chief executive Ursula Stephens said support services from emergency food relief to housing, counselling and domestic violence have all seen increases in demand.

“We are seeing that the COVID-19 impacts are really hitting hard for the most vulnerable in our community,” she said. 

“We want our sector to provide frontline services and we want them to be able to access the JobKeeper where our services have been impacted.”

Concerns have been raised, however, over the inclusion of government grants when calculating how much revenue a charity has lost.

Anglicare executive director Kasy Chambers said that risks distorting the financial impact being felt by charities across their services.

“What we would like to propose is that we exclude all government grants that are legally tied to provide particular services,” she said. “Then our services can access the JobKeeper payment for their affected staff.”

Mission Australia has also backed calls for eligibility to be broadened to account for services worst hit by the pandemic.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus

4 min read
Published 7 April 2020 at 11:02am
By Tom Stayner