More than $8.8 million worth of hardship grants were granted in Tauranga last year by the Ministry of Social Development – a 61 per cent increase on the year before.
That's more than $3.3 million of extra help.
The total number of grants approved – 21,690 – went up by almost 5000 year on year.
The Ministry said the figures, which were obtained by the Bay of Plenty Times under the Official Information Act, reflected a rise in living costs in New Zealand and the efforts the Ministry had made to help people experiencing financial difficulties.
That included making hardship applications easier to access – for example, being able to apply online and over the phone for certain types of help.
However, Tauranga MP and leader of the Opposition Simon Bridges said the 61 per cent jump was "disappointing" and blamed "Labour's poor policies" which, he said, had increased the cost of living "dramatically".
Bridges said rents were up because of increased regulation and tax changes, "petrol taxes keep piling on and electricity prices are set to rise".
"The increase in hardship grants under this Labour-led Government shows it's getting tougher for families, not easier. Kiwis are struggling and Labour has no plan. New Zealanders, more than ever, can't afford this Government."
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni responded to Bridges' comments by saying: "If National had built public housing at the rate this Government's doing (1600 per year) there would not be a waiting list for public housing.
"Instead, National sold off state houses and came up with the emergency housing policy, to put people in motels back in 2016," she said.
"Until more public housing options are brought on stream, emergency housing provides somewhere warm and dry for those who would otherwise be homeless."
Sepuloni said the coalition Government had increased the number of public housing placements by 2380 since being elected and was on target to provide 6400 public housing placements over the next four years.
Meanwhile, on the ground, the message is clear: the need for hardship help in Tauranga is high and growing.
Tommy Wilson, director of Te Tuinga Whānau Support Services Trust, said: "I guess the good news is we are getting the resources to the front line where in the past they were being hand-braked by bureaucracy.
"The bad or sad news is the demand by the desperate in our communities continues to grow as our city grows," he said.
Te Tuinga Whānau staff said hardship grants for emergency housing, food, power (with winter increases) and car repairs (including WoFs and registrations) were some of the most common.
Some people also have to apply for grants to get items like washing machines or fridges when they first move into a property, which can be difficult when they have already accessed a grant to pay the bond.
School uniforms and stationery at the beginning of the year were also common reasons to apply for hardship help.
The $8,830,452 of hardship grants approved at the Greerton, Mount Maunganui and Tauranga service centres last financial year included more than $4 million in Special Needs Grants, the majority of which were for food and emergency housing.
Of the 11,459 Special Needs Grants approved in 2018/19 in Tauranga – 5029 were for food, and 2677 were for emergency housing.
There were also 1084 grants for dental treatment.
Those three categories saw 8 per cent, 227 per cent and 12 per cent increases respectively year on year.
There was also almost $4 million granted for Advance Payment of Benefits last year, which is available to beneficiaries who have an immediate need for an essential item. That was up almost 30 per cent year on year.
The remaining roughly $800,000 was for Recoverable Assistance Payments, which is financial help for non-beneficiaries to meet essential immediate needs for specific items or services. That was up more than 35 per cent from the year before.
Liz Davies, general manager of Western Bay of Plenty social sector umbrella organisation SociaLink, said a lack of housing and high housing costs in Tauranga were driving the increases in emergency housing and other grants "because people have less money for food etc".
She said the new ministry figures also demonstrated that benefits needed to increase.
"People cannot live on existing benefits".
Kathy Young, a financial mentor at Pāpāmoa Family Services, said food money was often being used to pay extra bills such as water rates, car repairs and school camps as food was the only flexible item in people's budgets.
"And more is being swallowed up with petrol prices or transport costs," Young said.
"There are also quite a few still living in their cars – although these are mostly adults without dependent children."
Tauranga Budget Advisory Service manager Shirley McCombe said helping people with financial difficulties was never just about dollars and cents.
"There are so many more issues that complicate the decisions people make. Sometimes there are issues of poor physical health, addiction, mental health distress, domestic violence, learning disabilities, housing … and sometimes, there just isn't enough money to pay those unexpected bills."
Number and amount of hardship grants approved in Tauranga
Source: Ministry of Social Development
Note: A client can have more than one grant in the time period. The total amount granted may not be the same as the amount spent. These total figures include the three forms of hardship assistance provided by the Ministry of Social Development, through Work and Income – Advance Payments of Benefit, Recoverable Assistance Payments, and Special Needs Grants.