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A mother of two who lost almost everything in the Maribyrnong floods says she was denied state funding set aside to replace school supplies that were lost or damaged in last year’s deluge.
That is despite Angela Rodgers’ eight-year-old son escaping floodwaters last October with just the clothes on his back and the electronic devices used to keep him calm while the family waited for rescue in a neighbour’s multistorey home.
Angela Rodgers was told she was ineligible to receive a state government grant to help with new school uniforms and textbooks, despite losing almost everything in the Maribyrnong floods.Credit: Jason South
The state government late last year offered support payments of up to $1200 for each student affected by the 2022 floods. That money was touted for essential school items like uniforms, shoes, laptops, stationery, calculators or headphones.
Rodgers, 33, said she was not aware of the grant at the time but was informed by word of mouth several weeks ago. She added that when she called the government hotline before the end of the financial year, two different operators said they were not aware of the grant.
Rodgers says she received a call back several days later from a regional manager in the Department of Education who informed her: “It looks like the time [to apply for the grant] has already run out.”
A March version of the state government’s webpage for students and families affected by the floods, seen by The Age, did not specify a deadline for applying for the lost or damaged school items grant.
By July, the same webpage had been updated to remove any specific reference to the $1200 floods grant – instead referring to State Schools’ Relief, a fund designed to help parents experiencing financial hardship purchase uniforms and stationery for their children if they attend government schools.
Rodgers says while her son has since moved to a Catholic school outside Maribyrnong, closer to their new home, any support for school supplies would be appreciated given she and her husband struggle to put food on the table.
The couple were living in a granny flat attached to her parents’ Maribyrnong home at the time of the floods because they were saving for their first house. Rodgers estimates she and her husband lost $50,000 worth of belongings in the flood, including their car, furniture and clothes.
The family of four has been struggling to get ahead ever since, and rising interest rates haven’t helped.
“It feels like I have to beg for it,” Rodgers said of the school items grant. “Have I not been through enough crap? You want me to beg for a couple of extra dollars?
“Imagine if it was you. Just imagine that you wake up one morning and your whole entire life, the place you’ve been living for the last 27 years of your life, disappears with all of your children’s stuff in it.
“Put yourself in this position. Think like an actual human. We aren’t numbers.”
Maribyrnong Community Recovery Committee chair Madeleine Serle said there would be “loads more” families in a similar situation.
“I’m angry, but I’m embarrassed as well,” she said. “To promise something, and then take it away … I’m embarrassed that our community can’t support families decently.”
The Education Department’s head of security and emergency management, Simon Milligan, sent a letter to Serle last week stating that “multiple communication channels” were used to promote emergency flood relief payments.
“I am concerned to hear that some community members in Maribyrnong were either unaware of the program or have experienced barriers and delays in accessing support through it,” he said.
“The Department of Education’s website on flood relief supports has recently been updated. This has occurred to ensure currency of information, removing information on the fixed-term programs which concluded at the end of the financial year and ensuring that information on longer-term supports is available.”
When asked about Rodgers’ situation on Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews said: “That doesn’t sound right to me. We don’t want anyone in that sort of hardship.
“They’ve been through enough, that family, and many other parents. They don’t need any more of that stress. If there’s anything we can do, absolutely we will.”
The Age sent the state government a list of questions on Friday, including questions on how many Victorians received the grant to replace damaged school items, and how many of those people were in Maribyrnong.
In response on Monday, a government spokesman said: “Emergency relief payments are limited-time payments available to offer immediate support to students in events such as natural disasters.
“Financial assistance is still available to anyone affected by the floods through Emergency Relief Victoria and has no deadline.”
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