A number of peak bodies and advocacy groups have learned that they have been defunded as part of the $240 million budget cuts to social services – two days before Christmas.
The Australian Greens said Not for Profits have told them that services are receiving calls informing them of the cancellation of funding, in some cases with very short effect.
“It is already clear that key housing and homelessness services including Community Housing Federation of Australia and the National Shelter and Homelessness Australia, along with financial counselling services will be affected, some as early as February,” Australian Greens spokesperson on family and community services, Senator Rachel Siewert said.
“$21m over 4 years has been stripped from research, peak bodies, innovative projects, emerging priorities and policy advice on how to improve housing affordability for all Australians.
“We’ve known that cuts were coming, but for organisations to hear the news that their funding has been cut just days before Christmas is very cruel. This inflicts maximum chaos and undermines the sector’s advocacy on behalf of vulnerable Australians,” Senator Siewert said.
“With a new Minister on the way it, it is vital that organisations can engage on behalf of their stakeholders, but these cuts will make that impossible.
“Today’s reports are just the start of the Government’s plan to cut $240 million from programs funded under the Department of Social Services. With no formal announcement yet, it is difficult to piece together how many organisations are affected but no doubt we will hear more horror stories over the coming days.
“Organisations have been waiting for six months to find out if their contracts had been cut, renewed or extended, some organisation were originally signed through until 2016, and are now being cut. Others have been waiting to find out if they will have their funding renewed, and on what terms.
“Incoming Social Services Minister Scott Morrison’s first act should be to reverse these cuts and reinstate funding immediately.
“This is a move that will reduce service levels, cut jobs and ultimately disadvantage the most vulnerable Australians and further erode the capacity of our community sector,” Senator Siewert said.
“Yesterday we were advised that the Government had decided not to proceed with its tender for sector support for the financial counselling and financial capability sectors, FCA Executive Director Fiona Guthrie said.
“We acknowledge the Government’s decision and understand the budgetary constraints as set out in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook.
“We understand however that the Government does recognise the need for peak body support for financial counselling and financial capability workers. The issue appears to be whether it can be funded and to what extent.
“We will be seeking an urgent meeting with the new Minister for Social Services, Scott Morrison.
Guthrie said FCA will be celebrating its 30th birthday in 2015. “The organisation has been the recipient of Government funding at various times in its history and has also operated without funding.
“Whatever the outcome in January – whether FCA retains government funding or not – the organisation will continue to exist. Without funding, our capacity to support the sector will be severely reduced, but the need for a peak body remains unchanged.”
“FCA currently receives $260K + GST per annum in funding. We employ one full-time staff member and one part-time staff member as well as part-time administrative support.
“The additional funding proposed by the Government for FCA was $920,000. This would have allowed us to coordinate training across the sector, improve communication and information sharing and develop tools and resources for the sector. Sector support would have expanded from financial counsellors to also include financial capability workers.”
The Federal Government under Social Services Minister Kevin Andrews introduced a new application process in May.
The new grants arrangements collapsed the original 18 grant programs into seven larger programs. Kevin Andrews said at the time the new grants would include longer-term agreements that would provide greater certainty for the planning of services.
The Minister said as part of the new arrangements, the Government would roll out a streamlined system that added three newly broad-banded programs – Families and Communities, Housing and Homelessness, Disability, Mental Health and Carers – to complement those already existing in Ageing and Aged Care.
However the Federal Government was forced to extend the current funding arrangements in October for more than 5000 welfare charities for up to four months as it tried to respond to an “avalanche” of applications.
A Senate Estimates Committee hearing in Canberra was told that the Social Services Department received 5,572 applications from welfare groups seeking $3.9 billion over four years when there is just $800 million available after cuts to the program budget.
One community peak body that spent a nervous six months waiting on funding news was Volunteering Australia.
VA’s Chief Executive Officer Brett Williamson has confirmed that “our application for “Sector Peak Body Support” has been successful, but details are to be disclosed mid-January.”
This article first appeared on ‘Pro Bono News’ on 23 December 2014.