Only 100 Victorians have received 'no questions asked' Covid-19 hardship payment

Hannah Ryan and Luke Henriques-Gomes
Photograph: James Ross/AAP

The Victorian government will hand out more than half a billion dollars to businesses affected by Melbourne’s six-week lockdown as new data shows only 100 Victorians have been paid the state government’s $1,500 worker hardship payment.

A Victorian Department of Health and Human Services spokesman told the Guardian on Friday 100 payments had been made up to 8 July, although he would not say how many applications had been made.

The “no questions asked hardship payment” was introduced by the Andrews government on 20 June to prevent confirmed cases and their close contacts from going to work, as case numbers continued to rise sharply in Victoria.

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Although 100 payments have been made, there have been nearly 3,000 total Covid-19 cases in Victoria, including 1,214 cases which have been diagnosed since 20 June, when the payment was introduced. There are now currently about 1,000 active cases.

The case figures do not include close contacts who would also be eligible to access the payment, provided they met other criteria.

Workers are eligible if they would have worked but have been directed to self-isolate, have exhausted sick leave including pandemic leave, and are not receiving the jobkeeper wage subsidy or Centrelink payments.

“The Department of Health and Human Services’ case and contact tracing team directly contacts all confirmed coronavirus (Covid-19) cases and their close contacts. A needs assessment for the payment will be done over the phone,” the department website says.

“This is the only way to access this payment.”

Meanwhile, the separate financial support package for the 3,000 residents in the nine public housing towers who were placed under “hard lockdown” would be rolled out “shortly”, the department’s spokesman said.

He said 1,300 households would receive a $750 payment, while an additional $750 employment supplement would be paid to households in the nine towers where one or more people were employed.

The spokesman did not provide figures on how many households would receive the extra cash.

Earlier on Friday, the Victorian treasurer, Tim Pallas, and the industry support and recovery minister, Martin Pakula, announced the $534m business package at a press conference, where they admitted the lockdown of the greater Melbourne region and the Mitchell Shire would have a devastating effect on the state’s economy.

“We’re expecting that there will be literally billions of dollars written off the expected size of the Victorian economy,” Pallas said.

Unemployment in Victoria was likely to peak at 11% and gross state product in the June quarter would be about 14% lower than pre-coronavirus forecasts. “That is a profound reduction,” he said.

Pallas said his government “apologises to Victorians” for the lockdown, acknowledging it would be a “traumatic and a very difficult time” for many people. “This is nowhere where any Victorian wanted to be.”

Under the support package, more than 80,000 struggling businesses in the lockdown area will be eligible for $5,000 grants to help them stay afloat.

Business owners and operators and sole traders will be eligible for $36m of mental health support and mentoring.

Related: Coronavirus Victoria: what you need to know about Melbourne's stage 3 lockdown

Pubs, restaurants and other hospitality businesses will receive support from a dedicated fund of $30m for the night-time economy.

Pakula acknowledged that foot traffic in the Melbourne CBD had been “uniquely” hit by people staying at home. The government will set up a $20m fund specifically for the CBD.

The package also includes support for regional tourism operators who will miss out on visitors from Melbourne due to the lockdown.

The government also announced an extended and expanded payroll tax deferral, which will allow eligible business with payrolls of up to $10m to defer liabilities for the first half of the new financial year.

The package is aimed at helping businesses to stay afloat through the lockdown and then recover on the other side, the ministers said.

Pallas said future decisions would be informed by the federal government’s decision later this month about the future of the jobkeeper wage subsidy program.

“This is not a single event,” he said. “This is not the government saying, ‘this is it and we are out’.”

The new package took the Victorian government’s coronavirus support to $6bn so far, Pallas said.