Bundaberg Meals on Wheels volunteers Russell and Dot.
Bundaberg Meals on Wheels volunteers Russell and Dot.

Minister responds to volunteer group’s funding request

A MINISTER has responded to claims of discrepancies in the distribution of government funding, after a local not-for-profit organisation known for assisting vulnerable Australians has raised concerns about their survival.

Running for more than 65 years and serving more than 200,000 senior Australians across almost 600 locations, Meals On Wheels is calling for an increase in funding, with fears the organisation will struggle to survive.

Minister for Aged Care and Senior Australians Richard Colbeck said the Department of Health acknowledges the valuable and significant contribution Meals on Wheels makes to improve the lives of those most vulnerable.

"COVID-19 has affected the lives of many and with senior Australians required to isolate, the Department commends the responsiveness of Meals on Wheels Australia, its volunteers and the Meals on Wheels services across the country who continue to deliver an essential service through this unprecedented health crisis," Mr Colbeck said.

"Nationwide, the Department of Health funds 584 organisations to provide meals services under the Commonwealth Home Support Program (CHSP) to the annual value of over $80 million, including a number of Meals on Wheels organisations."

In March this year, the Federal Government announced additional funding of $444.6 million would be awarded to assist the aged care sector during COVID-19.

The Minister said this package included $120.2 million to fund CHSP services which were affected by the pandemic or needed to expand as a result and $50 million was made available to support meal services under the program.

"All CHSP meal providers were offered funding to meet COVID-19 related costs, such as replacing volunteers, and expanding services for existing and new clients," Mr Colbeck said.

"Any Meals on Wheels service provider that is facing pressures due to COVID-19 is also able to submit an ad hoc proposal for additional funds.

"The Department acknowledges that there are differences in funding arrangements between Meals on Wheels service providers funded under CHSP due to historical funding patterns in different states and territories."

Last week, Bundaberg service manager Brendon Searle said without sufficient funding, the local Meals on Wheels will struggle to remain financially sustainable and fatigue among volunteers had increased.

"Volunteers are feeling punished and exploited, and viability of services is at risk," Mr Searle said.

"Everyday, we help prevent food insecurity by delivering a nutritious meal, with a friendly smile to those who are unable to cook or shop for themselves.

"But without fair and adequate funding that doorbell will not ring and older Australians will go hungry."

Minister Colbeck said the Department is currently reviewing the variation in unit prices under the CHSP and will continue to consult with Meals on Wheels.