“Hardship funds allow families across the country who can no longer pay their bills to pay one another’s bills.”
Under the legislation, hardship funds can only be used for “necessity or emergency expenses”. The maximum award is 100 per cent of eligible expenses for a family of four.
The minister told the House of Representatives: “What we have got to remember is we are not here to help families. These are just people who have been really hard-up, or who have had problems, and are in debt. That is not the way we intend to treat them.
“They have got to be helped, no matter their circumstances. What we ask from them is: ‘What can you do?’
‘It has got to change’
“For example, what is a couple if they have two children who have to go to school together? What would that mean to them?”
It is the first time that federal parliamentarians have used the $500 grant since it was introduced by previous Labor governments in 2010.
On Wednesday, Liberal MP Matt Canavan raised the issue during question time. The opposition has attacked his government’s handling of the issue.
Canavan said he understood that a hardship fund for hardship was not a policy option under Bill Shorten’s government – but he said he would like an “open discussion” about whether that model was an appropriate one.
The government has said the money was not a policy option under the previous government.
Senator Canavan said it could be considered if the Coalition government decided to back a package of disability benefits reforms.
Under a package of measures introduced in 2015, people who were on a disability pension payments will no longer have to pay in the way the Labor government had done, but they will have to wait for those benefits to reach a “glut” before they can start receiving them again.
Under that approach, some people will wait up to five years for their benefits to be approved.
The government promised to restore all benefits – including payments to the aged pensioners and those with a disability – to their 2010 level in 2017.
Labor claims it is not cutting disability payments as a result of the changes.
In the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Labor MP Catherine King said Labor would ensure anyone on a disability pension with debts would not be affected by the new eligibility dates.
She has said the new reforms are not “death sentences for people in long-
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