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COVID-19 schools

COVID-19: the challenge for schools and the latest economic stimulus measures

The global COVID-19 crisis continues to have a profound impact on Australian life.

In an ever-evolving situation, the Federal Government has announced that pubs, clubs, casinos, nightclubs, cinemas, gyms and indoor sporting facilities, and places of worship and funerals will be closed from midday today, Monday, March 23, for an indefinite period. Restaurants and cafes are restricted to takeaway or delivery services.

Importantly, these changes have been identified as part of Stage 1 of the response to the Coronavirus, so we should expect further changes when Stage 2 is enacted.

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One of the biggest areas of debate and controversy has been the status of schools around the country. While the Federal Government decree has been that schools will stay open to prevent children missing a year of education, there is clearly division among states.

Schools in the ACT will effectively shut from tomorrow, Tuesday March 24 and switch to online learning, while the NSW Government will keep schools open but is encouraging parents to keep children at home. Victoria has also brought its school holidays forward to Tuesday, March 24 but schools in Western Australia, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Tasmania remain open. In Queensland there are still the best part of two weeks before holidays start on April 3 while in WA holidays are due to commence on April 9.

Clear communications are going to be of paramount importance for our schools. Most will have advanced planning for online learning but it’s possible there will be a shift to blended learning in the near future – with some students in classrooms and others located elsewhere.

School communications strategies must be clear and provide unambiguous instructions for parents about the latest Government advice in relation to students attending classes. Schools also need to manage parent expectations about the resources that will be made available for those who choose to withdraw their children from classes.

Teachers need a suite of language and responses for parents and children, that explain blended learning arrangements and outline what will happen in the lead-up to the holiday period. And schools need to provide regular support to teachers — many of whom are parents themselves — during this confusing time. Part of this will involve sharing the online teaching load between staff but there is also a need to identify jobs that can be done by other support staff in schools like uploading files, making sure online messages are fielded from parents and students, and triaging issues so teachers can focus on teaching.

The COVID-19 crisis is deadly serious – from both a health and economic perspective.

On Sunday, the Federal Government took the total value of announced stimulus packages to $189 billion, by unveiling another $66.1 billion of measures to cushion the economic impact of Coronavirus.

The package added to the $17.6 billion pledged by the Commonwealth in its first stimulus package and $90 billion pledged by the Reserve Bank of Australia in funding for small and medium-sized enterprises. The total economic support is equivalent to 9.7 per cent of Australia’s GDP.

Among the measures announced on Sunday are:

Support for households including casuals, sole-traders, retirees and those on income support

  • ‘Coronavirus supplement’ – $550 per fortnight, for those on income support, paid over the next six months, on top of existing payments. Note that waiting periods for the jobseeker payment will be waived if it is a result of Coronavirus.
  • An additional $750 payment – on top of the $750 announced on 12 March 2020, to around five million social security, veteran income support recipients and eligible concession card holders.
    • Funds will be made from 13 July, 2020 but those eligible for the Coronavirus supplement will not be able be eligible to receive this payment.
  • Access to superannuation – individuals in financial stress can access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21, without tax or income payment penalty.
  • Superannuation minimum drawdown – requirements for account-based pensions and similar products will be temporarily reduced by 50 per cent for 2019-20 and 2020-21.
  • Social Security rates reduced – as of 1 May 2020, to a lower deeming rate of 0.25 per cent and upper deeming rate of 2.25 per cent.

Assistance for businesses to keep people employed

  • Tax-free, cash payments up to $100, 000 – for small and medium sized businesses, and not-for-profits (including charities) that employ people, with a minimum payment of $20,000.
    • As an incentive to retain workers, from 28 April 2020, employers will receive a payment equal to 100 per cent of staff wage tax withholdings (up from 50 per cent), with the maximum payment being increased from $25,000 to $50,000. In addition, the minimum payment is being increased from $2,000 to $10,000.
    • An additional payment is also being made from 28 July 2020. Eligible entities will receive an additional payment equal to the total of all of the Boosting Cash Flow for Employers payments received.
  • SME Guarantee Scheme – the Government will guarantee 50 per cent of new loans issued by eligible lenders to SMEs, to allow $40 billion of lending to SMEs.
    • Supports the RBA’s announcement of a $90 billion term funding facility for authorised deposit-taking institutions, that will reduce the cost of lending, with incentives to lend to small and medium enterprises.
  • Insolvency changes – temporarily increasing the threshold at which creditors can issue a statutory demand on a company and the time companies have to respond to statutory demands they receive.
    • The Corporations Act 2001 will be amended to provide temporary and targeted relief, including temporary relief for directors from any personal liability for trading while insolvent.

Ruth Callaghan is Cannings Purple’s Chief Innovation Officer and a crisis communications expert with more than 20 years’ experience in corporate communications and journalism. Contact Ruth

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