The Department of Family and Social Services insists that there have been no cuts to emergency relief, following yesterday’s revelation that the Canberra Goulburn St Vincent de Paul Society has had their Federal government funding slashed by 25 per cent.
Instead, the Department sought to characterise the funding change as part of “an open and competitive process designed to maximise the quality of services available for vulnerable Australians”, resulting in emergency relief funding of $254,776 for Vinnies with an additional $81,000 in one-off transition funds for 2019. Previously, the charity had received $335,000 per annum.
The funding enables charities to respond to critical needs and is typically allocated for emergency assistance with rent, power bills and food. Vinnies also raise their own funds through donations and their shops, giving out around $2 million in total each year across a region encompassing the ACT and most of Southeastern NSW.
To receive the Federal government funding, they are required to provide evidence of compliance on a six monthly basis and to transparently account for how the funds are used.
The Department says that emergency relief funding for the region totalling $847,443 will be distributed between seven organisations over the next four and a half years. They are Anglicare NSW South, NSW West and ACT; the Salvation Army (NSW) Property Trust Redfern; Society of St. Vincent De Paul; Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services of the ACT; Southern Youth and Family Services Limited; Communities@Work and the YWCA.
Region Media asked for specific responses to three questions: Did St Vincent de Paul know that they were part of a competitive process? If St Vincent de Paul were previously funded at $335,000 and are now funded at $254,776 how is it the case that their emergency funding has not been cut? Why was no feedback or rationale for the changes provided to a charity with a history of service provision stretching over two decades?
A Departmental spokesman said that “the application process for the Emergency Relief round was clear that it was an open grant round. Existing providers were notified of the process when they received a six-month extension of funding in January 2018 and again in July 2018 prior to the round opening. This selection process met all stringent Departmental, legal and legislative requirements”.
The Department provided no specific response about why a deficit of around $81,000 on previous funding levels could not be construed as a cut, reiterating their statement that there had been no cuts to emergency funding for the region.
With regard to why no rationale was provided for the decision, the Department responded that “applicants have the opportunity to request formal feedback from a round”.
Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh, who recently ran a fundraiser at Parliament House for the charity, has questioned both the decision and the timing. “Vinnies have faced increased need throughout 2018 and Christmas is a very difficult time for vulnerable Canberrans. But the Federal government somehow thinks it’s OK to leave Vinnies in limbo, arguing about their funding rather than helping the people who need it most,” he said.
“I am as shocked and outraged as any other Canberran at this decision.”