This week has been the busiest of the entire pandemic for Horsham's Christian Emergency Food Centre, and next week will be even busier.
That's what client assessment manager Bev Miatke is anticipating, as changes to the Federal Government's JobSeeker program are now in effect.
JobSeeker, the unemployment support payment, was increased by $550 a fortnight at the start of the coronavirus pandemic but as of Friday is only $250 above pre-pandemic levels.
The overall payment will be about $800. It means single people with no dependents will be left with about $815 a fortnight or $58 a day.
The income-free area for JobSeeker Payment and Youth Allowance for job seekers also increases to $300 per fortnight as of Friday. This means people can earn more in wages but still get the maximum payment rates.
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Mrs Miatke said the Firebrace Street centre had been quiet since stage three restrictions returned to the region in early August, but inquiries had been building steadily in September.
"It's still not back to where demand was before the pandemic started, but it has certainly been the busiest week we've had in the last six months," she said.
"I'm expecting that to keep on increasing as the impact of the changes in government payments hit people. We still have some of our regular clients that are on disability pensions, but there have been a mix of other people coming, both unemployed and underemployed."
Mrs Miatke said if the rates did not change, she expected demand for the CEFC's services would be lower.
"While the payments were higher, we were very quiet, so people were obviously spending that extra money on food and utilities, things they normally come to us for," she said.
Government data shows there were 3,321 people receiving JobSeeker payments across the Grampians and Wimmera as of August.
On Thursday, Victoria's Carers Minister Luke Donnellan announced an $11.3 million boost to food relief activities in the state, including money to increase the capacity of regional food hubs and grants to organisations providing this type of help. Mrs Miatke said the centre had yet to hear what direct impact this would have on them.
She said it was likely there were people in the region who needed help that had never had to ask for it before.
"We are here to help, and we have a lot of food: Fresh fruit and vegetables, pantry staples and meat," she said. "Give us a call on 5381 2311 and we will explain how the system works."
The CEFC's annual report shows it received 267 orders for food parcels out of the Horsham area requiring delivery of 455 boxes of food throughout the Wimmera and Southern Mallee.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Thursday the dole will still be more than it was before the coronavirus pandemic.
He has signalled it will remain that way beyond December, when the reduced supplement is set to be scrapped.
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