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Government boosts seniors meal delivery amid COVID-19 demand increase

The Federal Government has provided $59.3 million in funding for organisations that provide prepared meals, food staples and essential daily items to Australia's most vulnerable who are in self-isolation at home.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, believes this funding for meal delivery services will continue to support older Australians while they are self-isolating from the coronavirus. [Source: Shutterstock]
Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, believes this funding for meal delivery services will continue to support older Australians while they are self-isolating from the coronavirus. [Source: Shutterstock]

Meal delivery services, like the Australian Meals On Wheels Association (AMOWA), will receive this funding injection to continue supporting older Australians with meals while they undertake the Government's COVID-19 self-isolating measures.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week that the elderly, particularly people 70 and over, should be limiting their contact with others, which is why meal services have become so important as older people look towards community food programs to support them in staying at home.

The funding will be divided between two areas, $50 million will go towards 3.4 million meals for 41,000 people for six weeks, which is equivalent to two meals a day, and $9.3 million will buy 36,000 emergency food supply boxes.

Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, believes that this funding for meal delivery services will continue to protect senior Australians from COVID-19, coronavirus, while they are self-isolating. 

“The well-being of older Australians remains a priority. We are supporting them so they can remain safely in their own homes,” says Mr Hunt.

Minister for Aged Care and Older Australians, Richard Colbeck, adds that this funding will also support My Aged Care in continuing to assist older people in accessing services they require.

“With the support of Government and community partnerships, we will continue to work towards ensuring senior Australians get the help they need during this difficult time,” says Mr Colbeck.

The funding package will support:

  • Home delivery for senior Australians who are registered with My Aged Care and will receive direct access to grocery suppliers via online and phone ordering

  • Availability of prepared meals and essential services and more flexibility for the Commonwealth Home Support Programme (CHSP)

  • Work with supermarkets and commercial providers to support services like Meals On Wheels.

An older person, who is isolated and does not have access to the internet, can call the My Aged Care contact centre, 1800 200 422, directly to access basic food and essentials.

Australian Meals On Wheels Association (AMOWA) President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Meals On Wheels South Australia (SA), Sharyn Broer, has welcomed the funding, which will lessen the blow of COVID-19 related increased administration and delivery costs.

Since the pandemic hit the nation, Meals On Wheels Australia has seen a 250 percent increase in new meal service users, which is causing extreme pressure on the delivery of their services.

"What is really great about the package is that the Department of Health has designed a process which is going to ensure that the funds flow really rapidly to where they are needed. The purpose of the funds is so that meal service providers can cover the increased costs of service delivery as a result of covid-19," explains Ms Broer.

"All of our operating costs have gone up, we are also experiencing an increased demand from existing service users who now need more meals delivered to them at home. They may have been going to group programs or social gatherings with friends or family, or once or twice a week they may have been eating out, those options are closed to them now. They are needing more meals delivered at home.

"The funds are for a two fold purpose, help to meet increased demand and to meet the cost of increased service delivery."

Meals On Wheels SA has 80 branches across the State and has partnered with the Adelaide Convention Centre to produce large volumes of frozen meals, which is a switch from predominately hot meals deliveries to mainly frozen meal deliveries. 

However, this is costing Meals On Wheels SA $3-5 more per three course meal than it would to produce the same meals with their volunteer cooks in their branch kitchens, which is a key increase of the organisation's costs.

Additionally, Ms Broer hasn't been able to create a model for it yet, however, she believes a foreseeable problem will be around older people struggling to pay for meal service delivery and may be stretching their budgets.

She says that normally, a meal user will receive 3 meals a week at $30, but with older people staying at home as much as possible, that requirement could increase to 7 meals a week at $70, which may not be as sustainable for some older Australians.

"What we anticipate is that there will be more older people who will be seeking hardship provisions from their Meals on Wheels service providers. So having this additional funding from the Government is going to give us an uplift on our base funding, which may give us some room to move… We would rather people eat than not eat," says Ms Broer.

"If we were able to make a reduction in price to those who need it most, the new Government funding may be able to provide that."

If you require any form of meal delivery services, visit My Aged Care online or call 1800 200 422.

For more information, visit the Aged Care Guide's COVID-19 update page. 

Do you have any questions about the coronavirus that you want answered? Tell us in the comments below or email journalist@dps.com.au.

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