The South Australian coastal city of Robe avoided COVID-19 during most of the pandemic, but as borders opened and tourists flocked to the city, the disease hit hard.
Daisy Hooper went home to her family farm near Robe for Christmas. On January 2, she had COVID.
The 23-year-old works as a casual at a marketing agency and does not have access to sick leave.
Since she could not return to her home in Adelaide, she needed financial support.
“I have rent, I have a car payment, phone bills,” Ms. Hooper said.
Federal government data show that the number of COVID-19 cases is higher in those aged 20 to 29 – a group that makes up a large proportion of the random workforce.
Much of that workforce has been isolated and without a fixed income as cases rise around the country.
Ms Hooper went to apply for the Federal Government’s Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment on the Services Australia website.
Ms Hooper said she waited 12 days for her payment and it was only after ABC contacted Services Australia that she finally received financial relief.
She said young people would struggle with the changed eligibility criteria.
The relief provided by the Commonwealth has varied from state to state, as have the criteria for isolation, testing and close exposure sites.
“Nothing really makes sense to me with all the changes every day; it’s not rational,” Ms Hooper said.
“It’s a little ridiculous [the government] believes that they are clear and precise to people. “
No payment for the right to leave?
Those who have some form of leave balance with their employer are currently unable to receive Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment.
Full-time nurse Bryn Zerna worked during the Christmas period at one of Adelaide’s largest public hospitals.
He caught COVID on his way into his five-day weekend, which had to be extended for another seven days due to the virus.
Sir. Zerna was not sure if he got the virus from work or from community exposure, so he went and looked at economic opportunities.
“It was a gray area over how I would get some form of payment, whether it was from SA Health or elsewhere,” he said.
He believed that he was entitled to various forms of leave from his own workplace. As a front-line health worker, he believed he should be eligible for payments from the federal government’s COVID relief.
Read it in small print
Aidan McCarthy, a community lawyer with Social Security Rights Victoria, was concerned that young people may be missing important details in making small or unintentional mistakes in the application process.
“It’s always a little difficult to find out if you’re eligible for Centrelink income support or not,” McCarthy said.
“Because these special payments are urgently needed and the process of getting them is less intense than other pensions, things can go wrong.
On January 10, Services Australia made the decision to require proof of a positive COVID-19 test for the person applying or the COVID positive person in your home who has pushed you into isolation.
‘People are ready to give you COVID’
In Melbourne, random retailer Meaghan Sinclair, 27, said she had been on several different public relief payments since the pandemic began.
Her housemate was recently tested positive for COVID-19, and when Mrs. Sinclair was considered a close contact, she had to isolate herself immediately and was unable to work.
Like Mrs Hooper, Mrs Sinclair was computer literate but said the application process confused her.
“There were a lot of pages you had to click through to apply for it. It’s a physical form you upload as a PDF, I had no idea what to do with it,” she said.
From Tuesday, the application for Pandemic Leave Disaster Payment will be linked to customers’ Centrelink profiles.
General Manager of Services Australia, Hank Jongen, said the new process would streamline applications and help with long wait times.
“The new claim form means people will be able to file a claim online through MyGov. This will not only make it easier to claim, but easier for us to process,” Mr Jongen said.
The new application form would only be available to those who began isolation by January 18th.
Ms Sinclair said she “winged it” and hoped to receive her payment soon, but she had concerns about the next few months for people her age.
“It’s not promising because this is the beginning, as workers will be isolated – especially if you work in retail or hospitality, you’re more or less out there,” she said.
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