‘It's just been so frustrating’: Food relief charities hindered by funding guidelines
28 October 2021 at 3:50 pm
Sector leaders say thousands of charities are missing out on funding support
Food relief organisations are calling for greater funding flexibility for the sector, warning that current guidelines are making it impossible to direct Commonwealth money where it is needed most.
There are currently three Commonwealth-funded food relief providers – Foodbank Australia, SecondBite and OzHarvest – which support 196 Commonwealth-funded emergency relief organisations (CFROs) to provide food to vulnerable people on a national scale.
The federal government has invested more than $200 million over four and half years to 30 June 2023 for emergency relief and food relief support.
Last April, in the early stages of the COVID crisis, an additional $37 million was offered to CFROs and a further $16 million was given to the three federal food relief providers.
But OzHarvest founder and CEO Ronni Kahn AO told Pro Bono News that using this funding effectively was difficult, since it could only be used to help the 196 existing CFROs.
Kahn said OzHarvest worked on the frontlines and knew where money needed to go to have the greatest impact, but it was very difficult to channel funds where the greatest need was.
“We support a few thousand organisations, but we’re only allowed to use the money for the very small number of Commonwealth-funded relief organisations,” Kahn said.
“And many new groups have emerged throughout this pandemic that need help, such as international students, or people who have never needed food relief before, but they don’t fall under the banner of any CFROs.”
The last time an organisation had the chance to become a CFRO was in 2018, as part of the Financial Crisis and Material Aid – Emergency Relief open selection grant process.
The successful organisations were given funding to deliver services across Australia from 1 January 2019 to 30 June 2023.
Kahn would love to see more organisations allocated as CFROs – so OzHarvest can share its funding more broadly – but she said grant applications are not open again until 2023, meaning no new CFROs can be chosen until then.
She said she has asked if the process can be brought forward but has been told no.
“I just think it’s a case of priorities. This is definitely low priority [for the government],” she said.
The need for food relief in Australia currently is significant, with Foodbank revealing last week that one in six Australian adults haven’t had enough to eat in the past year.
The charity’s latest hunger report also uncovered that 1.2 million children have gone hungry over this period.
Kahn said struggling to meet this need was having a severe impact on community organisations.
“Just for example, in Greater Sydney and New South Wales, around 100 small organisations have had to close their doors during this pandemic, and that was through lack of funding and a lack of ability to meet demand,” she said.
“And so the need is enormous. Food insecurity is not a problem that’s going away. It’s a national issue and it needs to be prioritised.”
Kahn said governments needed to step up their support for the sector during emergencies or disasters.
During these periods, she said offering the flexibility for organisations to scale up and allocate funding where it’s most needed was vital.
“What we’d like to have is the flexibility to scale up or down,” she said.
“We obviously want core funding that is sufficient and ongoing. But what’s shifted [is around] natural disasters where the need has grown so enormously.
“We want a level of core funding and then we also want flexibility so that as soon as a disaster happens, it’s automatic that funding gates open to fulfil the need.”
Food relief organisations want their FareShare
When the federal government announced its additional emergency relief and food relief funding last April, FareShare missed out because it did not have a pre-existing contract with the Commonwealth.
The food relief charity’s CEO, Marcus Godinho, told Pro Bono News that FareShare had experienced a surge in requests from local charities for its meals at this time.
He said the charity had pleaded its case to government for funding and explained that what FareShare did was different to other food charities because it actually cooked ready to eat meals at scale.
“Despite many attempts and many requests repeatedly trying to explain how charities needed support from us, it just fell on deaf ears,” he said.
“It’s just been so frustrating because we’ve got dozens of charities in Melbourne alone that have requested our meals and are on a waiting list.
“And to have missed out when we’ve seen millions of dollars given to other food charities, it feels like we’re penalised because we’ve been able to successfully operate without government funding in the past.”
Godinho said he would love to see the government relax funding limitations and assess the need for different types of food relief, noting food relief was not homogenous.
He said FareShare would “absolutely” apply for Commonwealth funding next time, so the charity was better positioned if and when another crisis occurred.
But he noted being told to just wait for the next funding round was “not particularly useful when you’ve got a pandemic that’s here and now”.
Godinho added that the current Commonwealth funding model was not working as well as it could.
“Some organisations have got millions of dollars [in funding] and at times we’ve heard they’ve actually struggled to use all the money within the timeframes that they’ve been given,” he said.
“So there’s these bizarre situations where charities that could really put it to good use are missing out and others have got so much they can’t spend it in the time that they’ve been given.”
Department of Social Services responds to concerns
Pro Bono News reached out to the responsible Commonwealth entity – the Department of Social Services – and asked when was the next time organisations could apply to become a CFRO, and if the application process could be brought forward before 2023.
The department did not answer these questions.
But a departmental spokesperson told Pro Bono News that while the government funded emergency relief through 196 organisations, these groups had an “extensive network of around 1,200 outlets with a presence in each and every region of Australia”.
“These providers, which include the Salvation Army, UnitingCare, Anglicare as well as many smaller community organisations, have the experience and capacity to deliver wrap-around support to Australians who are doing it tough,” the spokesperson said.