Monday, October 3, 2022

‘I Literally Cannot Afford to Get Covid’ Where To Go For Covid Support Right Now – PLUS, Where To Give It!

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We truly are living in unprecedented times – Covid-19 and the fall-out from the pandemic has hit individuals and families hard. If you’re struggling, there is Covid support available. And on the flip side, if you’re able, there are plenty of ways that you could help someone in need.

In her old life, Kelly didn’t think twice about what would happen if she needed to take sick leave.

“I literally never thought about,” she says. “If I got sick, I got sick and took a day off. That’s what sick leave was for – and there always seemed to be heaps of it.”

But now, Kelly is terrified of not being able to go to work.

Two years ago she was working as a travel agent – a job she was good at and thoroughly enjoyed. But, unfortunately, we all know the plight of those who worked in her industry, so it’ll come as little surprise to learn she swiftly lost her job.

It was devastating.

“I honestly loved my job,” she says. “I loved the work and I loved the people.”

She got some redundancy money and then assistance from the Work and Income, but she watched her money quickly disappear. It was stressful, because she didn’t really have anywhere to turn for help – her mother moved back to South Africa 10 years ago and she is estranged from her father.

It took months, but she eventually found a new job at a graphic design company, but three months ago, she was once again let go, due to a downturn in business thanks to Covid. She hadn’t been working there for long enough to be eligible for redundancy. However, she was able to get some financial support from the government, while she looked for a new job.

This time, she figured she’d look for something more short term and temporary – she’d had some hopeful conversations with her old boss about the travel industry starting to wake up. So, she figured she’d be best not to commit to anything long-term right now, knowing she’d jump as soon as the chance to get back into tourism arises.

To tide her over, she picked up two new gigs – both casual, but consistent part-time hours – one in a cafe and one in a shop.

The schedule keeps her busy, but she’s paid by the hour – she has no sick leave and no annual leave. And now, living pay cheque to pay cheque, she’s worried what will happen if she has to self-isolate and can’t go to work.

“I literally don’t have any savings. I worked through those after the first redundancy,” she says. “If I don’t work, I don’t get paid – how would I pay my bills?”

And, it’s a very real possibility now. Last week, two of Kelly’s three flat mates were self-isolating at home after coming in close contact with positive cases. This week, as they’re symptom free and have returned negative RAT tests, returned to work this week now that only those with household contacts need to self-isolate.

“I mean, one of us is going to catch it, surely,” she says. One of her flatmates also works in hospitality. “Every day I hear about a place having to close because of Covid – that could be us next.”

The idea is terrifying, because she knows she doesn’t have the supplies at home or the support to get her through 10 days of isolation, let alone if she actually gets sick.

“Everyone’s saying to prepare for isolating or getting sick, but, like, how?” she says. She doesn’t have a surplus of cash that would allow her to put together a stash of medical supplies, or buy freezer meals just in case.

“How will I pay for a thermometer if I won’t even be able to pay my rent?” she asks. “I can’t even imagine what this must be like for people who also have kids to worry about.”

Unfortunately, Kelly is certainly not alone in her financial fears. Getting sick is stressful enough, without also then having to worry about how you’re going to put food on the table or cover your rent.

Thankfully, there is some support available. So, if you’re reading this and can identify with Kelly, read on for ways to access help – but likewise, if you’re reading this, and are in a position where you can actually help others (and there are LOTS of ways you can do this) please also read on for ideas on what you can do to help in your community. Now is a time we really need to be supporting one another.

I’m struggling. What do I do?

Whether you’re struggling financially, or you’re finding things tough mentally, or you’re stuck right now unable to get supplies while you’re home isolating/sick with Covid, there is help out there for you. You don’t have to go through this alone or carry this burden without help. While we definitely acknowledge that unfortunately, no, there’s nothing that going to change your fortune or circumstances with the click of the fingers, there are lots of resources out there that can help lift off some of the burden.

+ First things first, get online and check out https://covid19.govt.nz/isolation-and-care/financial-support/. You may be worried (like Kelly has been) that you’re not eligible for any financial support, but you may very well be surprised! There’s a raft of new initiatives – plus thresholds for accessing help have changed. The best thing you can do is check online or call directly to work through your situation – particularly if you have multiple employers, like Kelly.

If you are having to stay home because you need to isolate while you await a test, or have to care for someone who is awaiting a test, you’re entitled to a COVID-19 Short-Term Absence Payment. This is paid out in a lump sum through your employer.. If you have to stay home because you are sick, or need to care for someone who is sick, you are also eligible for the COVID-19 Leave Support Scheme – a lump sum of $600 if you work full time.

Alternatively, if your employer has to cut your hours due to Covid-19, you will likely be entitled to a benefit through Work and Income and this isn’t a long, drawn-out process. You’ll get help, fast. You may also get urgent assistance for things like food, accommodation, medical costs and bills for power, gas, heating or water.

Even if you’re still working your normal hours, you may be eligible for assistance. The income levels for a person to receive benefits has increased. That means that if you’re a single person, working 40 hours a week on the minimum wage, you’re eligible for assistance.

You can check out what is available online, or give Work and Income on 0800 559 009.

+ Talk about your problems and ask for help. Yip, it’s often easier said than done, but these are unprecedented times and a lot – actually most! – of what is happening is out of our control. This pandemic has thrown a lot of people into financial distress – you are not alone. It’s okay to ask for and accept help.

+ If you’re having to self-isolate and you’re unable to access or afford groceries, if you’re in Auckland call 0800 22 22 96 between 7am and 7pm, seven days a week. (You’ll need to meet government criteria for assistance)

+ Money Talks and Fincap.org.nz give free and confidential budgeting advice and can help you put together a plan – call the Money Talks helpline on 0800 345 123.

+ Take care of your wellbeing. Right now, things are stressful and you don’t have to keep those worries to yourself! You can talk to someone you trust, or, often talking to a trained, complete stranger can be even more beneficial. You can call or text 1737 free, anytime, 24/7 to talk to a trained counsellor.

+ Pick up supplies from a free pantry. Have a look at https://www.patakai.co.nz/p257taka-locations.html to see if there’s a community pantry nearby you where you can pick up what you need.

+ Get on Facebook. Yip, there’s a lot of misinformation out there being spread online, but there’s actually also some great resources. If you don’t already belong to your local community group, have a search and sign up. There, you can find people and groups in your community who are looking for individuals and families who could do with assistance. There are people out there in your local community who want to help.

+ There are lots of really good people out there doing lots of good work. Have a look at Life Community Kitchens – they have seven LIFE Community Kitchens across Auckland from where you can pick up (or currently have delivered) a free hot meal.

Shit, I really should be doing something to help! What do I do??

+ Get on Facebook. Normally, this is the exact opposite advice we give to people when the going gets tough and misinformation is rife, but, it can be a great tool for connecting with your community. If you don’t already belong to your local community group, have a search and sign up. There, you can make yourself available for help, or join up with others who are putting plans into action. Your gesture could be something as small as posting, ‘Does anyone know a family who is struggling right now? I’ve made a few extra lasagnes for the freezer and would like to drop them off to whoever needs them now. DM me!’. Or, you could offer to pick up supplies for someone who needs them and can’t access them, or to walk a dog if someone is sick with Covid, or maybe redirect your Hello Fresh order for a week to a family who is struggling. Have a look through the messages posted and see if there’s anyone who is asking for help – or if you can team up with someone who is offering assistance.

+ Do you get your groceries delivered for convenience? If you don’t have anyone who is immunocompromised at home and it’s just a habit you’ve got into, quit out of those slots and leave them for the folks who are currently having to isolate, or who have vulnerable family members at home who need to avoid going out in public as much as possible.

+ Wondering if you should buy some extra tins of food to stock the pantry just in case? An extra pack of toilet paper? Sure, go for it – buy those extras and then drop them in the food bank bin as you leave.

+ Stock up a food bank or pantry. You can donate to your local food bank, or have a look around in your local or nearby community for free pantries, where people can pick up what they need. Have a search here to see if there’s one near you – https://www.patakai.co.nz/p257taka-locations.html then fill it up with helpful supplies!

+ Ask local groups, churches, food banks etc if they need financial support, supplies, or a donation of your time. Places like Life Community Kitchens are busy preparing meals for those who need them – reach out and see what you may be able to contribute.

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