Coronavirus: Government to waive stand-down period for benefit seekers

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 4 Mar 2020, 9:04PM
Finding work for forestry workers is a top priority for the government. (Photo / File)
Finding work for forestry workers is a top priority for the government. (Photo / File)

Coronavirus: Government to waive stand-down period for benefit seekers

Author
Derek Cheng, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Wed, 4 Mar 2020, 9:04PM

The Government will waive the stand-down period for people moving to benefits as a result of the economic fallout from the global spread of Covid-19.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made the announcement this afternoon, following a meeting of the special coronavirus Cabinet committee at the Beehive.

"We have agreed in principle to removing the stand-down period for those who are seeking income support," Ardern said.

"We are now going to go away and work on the definition issues and bring that back to Cabinet on Monday.

"Our goal is to ensure that those people who need immediate support because of the impact of Covid-19 are able to receive that support through Work and Income."

Stand-down periods are usually for one week, she said, and while a few hundred people had so far notified the Government about moving to a benefit, Ardern expected many more people to be affected.

Early figures show New Zealand exports may have taken a $300 million hit due to disruption caused by Covid-19, with a significant drop in forestry, meat and seafood exports.

Economic Development Minister Phil Twyford travelled to Gisborne this week and advised the committee on how to soften the blow to the forestry industry there.

Ardern said Provincial Growth Fund roading projects in the region were one option, and the NZ Transport Agency was looking to bring those projects forward and employing forestry workers, supported with extra training.

Providing capital to bring forward work on forestry roads was another option, Ardern said.

On Monday Ministers were urged to support employers in the same way that wage subsidies were offered after the Christchurch and Kaikoura earthquakes.

The Government has already put $11 million towards the tourism sector and $4 million to
to bolster the Regional Business Partner network, and Finance Minister Grant Robertson said that further fiscal stimulus was being looked at.

He said the workers who were down to two or three working days a week could be supported into training with their current employer.

National Party leader Simon Bridges has called for immediate tax relief for average income earners and more infrastructure spending, but Robertson said that further help would be targeted at the worst-hit sectors and regions.

Ardern said that there was a discussion about the current travel restrictions on arrivals from China, Iran, northern Italy and South Korea, but they had not been extended.

Those restrictions were based on expert advice, she said, and New Zealand currently had more stringent restrictions than most countries, including Australia.

She said Cabinet was also awaiting further advice on how the Inland Revenue Department could help businesses beyond recalculating provisional tax.

The Ministry of Health today confirmed a second case of Covid-19 in New Zealand. The woman was in self-isolation at her home with mild to moderate symptoms.

The special Cabinet committee, which will meet at least every Wednesday, includes 12 Ministers as well as Ardern's chief science adviser and officials from Treasury, the ministries of Health, Education, and Primary Industries, the State Services Commission and Customs.