DESPERATE TIMES: Mallee communities will welcome news of an almost $100million drought relief package which will see greater access to funding for the drought-stricken region.

ALMOST $100million is being made available in the Mallee under a Federal Government package which will give affected communities greater access to much-needed drought assistance.

The Federal Government says it is responding to the ongoing drought with direct and immediate support to help farming families and communities.

Member for Mallee Dr Anne Webster said $33.4million had been made available through the Drought Community Support Initiative to provide immediate financial assistance to eligible households in hardship.

“Farming households can receive up to $3000 to spend in their local communities to cover urgent bills such as food, petrol and utilities, relieving stress for families who are struggling through this drought and boosting the local economy,” she said.

“The effects of the drought are not just felt on the farm – regional communities and businesses suffer as people spend less in towns.

“I know this will make a difference here in Mallee, and in particular in the Millewa, where we’ve been dealing with the severe impact of drought for some time.”

The Commonwealth will work with the Salvation Army and St Vincent de Paul Society to make sure money hits the ground quickly, and gets to those most in need.

Under the Drought Communities Programme Extension another 13 Councils will have access to up to $1million each to complete local infrastructure and drought-relief projects. Within the Mallee, the Gannawarra Shire and Swan Hill Rural City Council have been added to eligible Councils.

The Government will also simplify Farm Household Allowance (FHA) applications. The changes will remove business income reconciliation, change the time limit on payment to four years in every 10, simplify assets test and recognise agistment.

The Commonwealth has also announced an injection of $740,000 of contingency funding to five Rural Financial Counselling Service providers who are experiencing pressure from increased demand.

“It’s really important that farmers do not self-assess their eligibility and instead seek advice from an expert, like a rural financial counsellor,” Dr Webster said. “In our discussion with the Regional Investment Corporation, it seems that self-assessment is a roadblock to many farmers receiving the help they need.”

For more information and to apply for assistance visit http://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/drought or call 1800 900 090.