BUSHFIRE aid will be available to more farmers and small-business owners due to a relaxation of eligibility rules following protests by residents from the town of Jindivick.
From today, farmers who earn less than 51 per cent of their income on the land will be eligible for a grant of $5000.
The move was announced jointly yesterday by the State Government and federal MP Bill Shorten, parliamentary secretary for Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction.
"Farmers and small business owners will be eligible for a $5000 grant from the natural disaster relief and recovery arrangement," he said.
The change would apply to those earning less than $100,000 a year in total income who had received no other bushfire aid, he said.
"The 51 per cent rule has prevented grants going to farmers in genuine hardship," Mr Shorten said. "In recent years, many genuine farmers have taken off-farm jobs … Often these farmers are on low incomes and are some of the people hardest hit by the bushfires."
He said the change was a recognition of need, and many would use the money for fencing. Second-tier grants of $20,000 would still require the recipient to earn more than 51 per cent from farming.
The new rules follow protests by residents of the Gippsland town of Jindivick, reported in The Age yesterday, that many who were suffering after the bushfires did not qualify for aid.
Residents claimed the general store was going broke and some locals were suicidal because of financial hardship.
About 40 locals attended a meeting yesterday at the Jindivick general store. Many owned properties that were burnt or houses that were destroyed.
When asked whether any had received money from the Bushfire Appeal Fund, none put up their hand.
Baw Baw Shire Mayor and Jindivick resident Ruth McGowan said the district had lost 2000 kilometres of fencing in the fire, causing great disruption to a farming community.
"To get that into perspective, that's a fence from Melbourne to Sydney and back … but no money has come through for the fencing yet, so people are paying for that out of their own pockets."
The State Minister for Regional and Rural Development, Jacinta Allan, said: "We made a commitment to help business and farmers help rebuild and recover.
"This is a big task and we have been working hard where people do fall through the cracks to provide assistance."
It is estimated that up to 200 farmers and small businesses will be eligible for aid under the new system.
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