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Emergency food package scheme for older Australians underperforms

A Federal Government program implemented to provide 36,000 emergency food packages to older Australians has drastically underperformed, only delivering 38 food packages to older people in need.

The emergency food packages program was only meant to last for six weeks, and only 38 packages were accepted and accessed through My Aged Care. [Source: iStock]

The $9.3 million program for 36,000 emergency food packages hit well below the mark, which was meant to support thousands of older Australians at home isolating during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shadow Minister for Ageing and Seniors, Julie Collins, is furious with the underperformance of the scheme that didn't seem to make an impact at all on struggling older Australians.

"Vulnerable older Australians cannot be left to slip through the cracks and the Government must do better instead of offering excuses," says Minister Collins.

"Any savings from this program must be delivered back to policies that do support older Australians.  

"With many vulnerable older Australians continuing to stay at home because of COVID-19 even as restrictions ease, any future policies must be better managed."

At the beginning of April, this program was unveiled alongside a $50 million injection into meal delivery services for vulnerable people. Together, the funding made up a $59.3 million food delivery package that would provide prepared meals, food staples and essential daily items to older Australians.

The emergency food packages program was only meant to last for six weeks, and only 38 packages accepted and accessed through My Aged Care.

Chief Advocate for National Seniors Australia, Ian Henschke, believes it is worrying that the food package scheme was such a huge flop. 

"It’s very concerning if the figures we are told reflect what happened to the 36,0000 food packages which were meant to assist older Australians self isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic," says Mr Henschke.

"If only 38 [packages] were delivered that is by any estimation a monumental failure in terms of delivery."

Mr Henschke says that the funding for this scheme needs to be redirected into the aged care sector, like to assist the waitlist issues with Home Care Packages.

"The latest figures show more than 104,000 older Australians are waiting for a Home Care Package to meet their needs. The $9.3 million could help in that area," explains Mr Henschke.

"The Royal Commission interim report entitled 'Neglect' highlighted the urgent need to address the home care waitlist. It heard that 16,000 people died last year waiting for a package and 14,000 went into residential care because they couldn’t get a package to help them stay at home."

Minister for Aged Care and Older Australians, Richard Colbeck, believes that the emergency food supply boxes have assisted vulnerable people in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

"It is important to note that the emergency food supply box is only one option that can be offered as part of an enhanced case management approach within the My Aged Care Contact Centre," says Minister Colbeck.

"Deliveries of prepared meals to seniors have increased by up to 50 percent in some areas as part of the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with many providers reaching out to new clients through these meal deliveries

"Many seniors already receiving support through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP), are now also receiving meal deliveries for the first time and others who were receiving meals have increased the frequency and number of meals they receive.

"The contents of the emergency food supply boxes are determined by the grocery supplier, in general this includes a range of breakfast, lunch and dinner meal options as well as household essentials like soap and toilet paper."

Minister Colbeck adds that the program will be available through meal providers under the Commonwealth Home Support Programme until 30 June 2021 until the funds are spent.

To access the scheme, older people will need to contact the My Aged Care Contact Centre, 1800 200 422, and an emergency supply pack will be organised by the Case Management Team, which will then be delivered to the clients nominated delivery address.

If an older person has access to the internet, they can order the supply boxes through grocery provider websites.

Minister Colbeck adds that the funding for COVID-19 measures will remain a matter up for Australian Government consideration.

For more information about the coronavirus, visit the Aged Care Guide COVID-19 update page.

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