Urgent changes to the way beneficiaries could claim payments from Work and Income, costing the Government an extra $72.49 million, were approved on the first day of lockdown.
The move was twofold - to make access easier and put more money in the pockets of the unemployed and those on sickness and disability benefits, and to free up Ministry of Social Development staff in the process to deal with the impacts of Covid-19.
The details are contained in a dump of thousands of documents of official advice on the national Covid-19 response, released by the Government on Friday afternoon.
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In a minute decision of the Covid-19 Ministerial Group, dated March 26, it was noted that the "unprecedented social and economic impact of Covid-19" required the ministry to make urgent changes to its operating model to manage demand for services and ensure the health and safety of clients and staff.
The temporary initiatives to help free up staff did not require legislative change and came into effect on March 30 for six months. They included:
• Removing the need for existing clients to provide medical certificates to continue their eligibility for a main benefit, affecting 30,000 clients a month;
• Deferring disability allowance reviews for cost and medical eligibility affecting 26,000 clients a month;
• Extending the review period for child disability allowance affecting 4000 clients a month;
• Deferring review of health conditions for supported living payment clients affecting 2000 clients a month;
• Deferring expirations of the emergency benefit affecting 150 clients a month, and the special benefit affecting 1600 clients a month;
• Streamlining the process for new clients;
• And deferring other client annual reviews, affecting 74,000 people per month.
Two initiatives did require amendment to the Social Security Regulations 2018.
They included temporarily extending the 52-week reapplication requirement for jobseekers and sole parents to 104 weeks, and deferring reapplications for temporary additional support for six months.
A 28-day rule was waived to allowed the amendments to come into force earlier.
The Minister for Social Development Carmel Sepuloni also delayed the start of a new emergency housing contribution that would have seen recipients contributing 25 per cent of their income to the special needs grant.
Under the domestic epidemic management notice, issued by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on March 23, the ministry was able to pay emergency benefits to people who were not usually entitled, with the written approval of Sepuloni.
It also allowed MSD to waive its statutory responsibility to inquire into every claim for a benefit.
The financial implications were that spending would need to increase to cover the cost of the initiatives.
The jobseeker Support and emergency benefit spending would increase from $13.7m to $48.9m in the next financial year, while hardship assistance was the next biggest increase from $1m to $8.8m.
The total extra spend was $72.49m, up from $21.4m to $93.9m.