Budgeting services are to get extra funding to cope with desperate families seeking hardship aid at the rate of almost 100,000 people a month.
Social Development Minister Paula Bennett said special needs grants and benefit advances to people in hardship leapt from 51,000 in March 2008, before the recession hit, to 90,554 last month.
She told budgeting agencies at an emergency meeting in Mangere yesterday that she accepted the need for more funding because of tough new rules, which meant families couldn't get more than two hardship payments a year unless they underwent "budgeting activities" and took steps to increase income, cut costs or improve financial management.
"Without a doubt there's been a real increase in need, and because of the changes from Work and Income which I introduced last year, that's had an effect on those services," she said. "We must look at that and fix it."
She said there had been some under-spending in her budget which she hoped to divert to budgeting agencies. She would also clear up a "misconception" by some Work and Income staff who believed applicants for hardship grants had to actually visit a budgeting agency.
"They could go online and fill out a budgeting form," she said.
But Mangere Budgeting and Family Support Services chief executive Darryl Evans said many beneficiaries didn't have internet access so the only practical way they could get budgeting help was to visit an agency.
Mangere sickness beneficiary Anthony Oppatt, 50, sacked from his last job with Armourguard in January, said he was refused a food grant by Work and Income at 4.30pm last Friday because he'd already had grants of $540 since losing his job.
"I was told to go to a foodbank," he said. "But they close at 4pm. I have a wife and two children aged 7 and 10, all weekend I survived on Weet-Bix."
However, a Glenfield solo mother of three children who was refused a $106 food grant on Wednesday was given the money late on Thursday after the Herald reported on her case.
Work and Income head Mike Smith said the mother, "Maree", was not refused a grant - "she walked out of the meeting before a decision could be made".
"Last year Maree received 13 hardship payments. She owes us $1400 for money we've advanced her," he said.
"She is clearly having trouble managing her finances. We want to help her with that, rather than continuing to service the symptoms of the problem with hardship grants."
But Pam Apera of the Beneficiaries Advocacy and Information Service, who supported Maree at the Wednesday meeting, said they both walked out only after "begging" for the food grant for an hour and a half and being turned down.
She said Maree had been "absolutely overwhelmed" by Herald readers' generosity since the paper reported that she had not cut her hair for two years and couldn't afford a computer for her children.
"We have so far had two offers of computers, a hairdressing salon here on the North Shore offered free haircuts for a whole year, we had a box of food and some meat vouchers from the Birkenhead Baptist Church, a $200 donation, $20 donations, and one man has offered $150 a week for six months," she said.
Work and Income yesterday provided a full breakdown of Maree's income totalling $867.13 a week - $288.47 from the domestic purposes benefit, $211 in accommodation supplement, $232.96 in family tax credits, $45.60 in disability allowance for Maree's fibromyalgia and other health issues, and $89.10 in disability allowances for two children with asthma and allergies.
An amount of $34.63 is deducted towards paying off the $1400 debt, leaving a net income of $832.50.
She pays $385 in rent plus $35 in rent arrears, $85 on electricity including arrears caused by a leaky hot water cylinder, $60 on petrol, $45.60 on medical costs, $10 on fines, and aims to spend $200 a week on food, leaving $11.90 a week for all other costs such as clothing and car repairs.