Mayoral relief fund payments under fire

Questions have been raised about the dispersal of the $3 million Blue Mountains Bushfire Mayoral Relief Fund, with concerns applicants were means-tested when people were under the impression funding was available to all fire-affected residents.

Fire-affected residents have found upon application for a phase 2 grant, that their “capacity to recover” was being assessed.

Some residents took to Facebook to vent their frustration: “The fires didn’t discriminate, they didn’t care who was insured and who wasn’t, they didn’t care how much money was coming into my household or that of my neighbours,” wrote Christina Leonard.

“I would like to know how they intend to define ‘capacity to recover’ and is this a pure financial thing and/or is this what the community wants and who is representing the community’s wishes in this process. Many people contributed to this fund in the belief it would be given to all affected families,” wrote Janet Shepherd. 

Blue Mountains Bushfire Mayoral Relief Fund Committee chairperson Phil Koperberg said to ensure the fair distribution of phase 2 grants, the ‘capacity to recover’ was assessed, which meant the amount granted would vary from household to household depending on circumstances.

He said a number of pieces of information determined the ‘capacity to recover’ such as bushfire attack level of the property, property insurance, household contents insurance, number of dependents, and bushfire financial assistance received, as well as the level of household income.

“While some people have expressed concern that the process is ‘means tested’, I can assure you this is not the case because everyone who experienced loss of property and household contents in the Blue Mountains bushfires is eligible for a payment. If it was means tested then people over a certain level of income would get nothing in that instance,” Mr Koperberg said.

The distribution of phase 2 grants began January 17, with more cheques distributed yesterday, and based on the current balance of the mayoral fund, were between $500 and $10,000 per eligible applicant, Mr Koperberg said.

Applications for phase 1 grants are still being received, and have been distributed as a $2000 cheque per household among more than 200 applicants.

Mr Koperberg said the phase 1 grants were, “made available to eligible residents based on the criteria of the primary place of residence being significantly damaged or destroyed and rendered uninhabitable as a direct result of the October 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires.”

Mayoral Relief Fund payments will continue to be made in response to eligible applications received.

Mayor Mark Greenhill said: “In my capacity as mayor, my role in establishing the Blue Mountains Bushfire Mayoral Relief Fund Committee from the outset was solely to raise much-needed funds for survivors of the devastating October 2013 Blue Mountains bushfires.

“While I am not on the committee that distributes the money, I wholeheartedly support the key principle that the distribution of the Mayoral Relief Fund is based on people’s capacity to recover and therefore all bushfire survivors whose place of residence has been destroyed or significantly damaged receive a share of the fund.”

He said in determining the criteria for assistance the independent committee had been guided by the Australian Red Cross who have considerable experience in managing emergency appeals nationally and internationally.

Salvos appeal funds deliberately held back 

The Salvation Army’s bushfire appeal fund has raised over $9 million but only $2.5 million has so far been distributed to families and individuals.

The bulk of the funds has been deliberately held back, according to the manager of the Salvos’ Springwood Relief Support Centre, Major Sue Hopper, because demand for help is likely to increase in coming months.

“Experience from previous natural disasters shows that as the rebuilding effort ramps up, the needs of individuals and families can increase dramatically,” she said.

The start of the school year is also expected to put added strains on affected families.

“We’re very mindful that the start of the school year can be quite stressful and assistance is particularly available for families with children returning to school who have lost their homes or had substantial damage to their properties,” Major Hopper said.

“The Salvation Army will stand with bushfire-affected residents for the long term and will continue to provide assistance for however long it takes for the community to get back on its feet.”

Bushfire-affected residents can call into the support centre at the Springwood Baptist Church, 313 Macquarie Road.

It is open from Tuesday to Friday 10am-6pm and on Saturday from 10am-2pm. Or call 1300 551 030.

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