A volunteer-run mutual aid project backed by the Antipoverty Center has stepped in to supply free rapid antigen tests to concession card holders after a federal government program ended on Sunday.
The Ratbag project raised more than $2500 after launching on Twitter last night to ensure that welfare recipients could access RATs without having to sacrifice funds earmarked for food and other essentials.
“Without a RAT many welfare recipients will be forced to choose between leaving home while contagious or losing their poverty payment. Others will choose between food and testing,” Project coordinator Paul McMillan said.
“At a time when Covid cases are peaking and new strains are emerging, we can’t ask people who are already skipping meals, medication and other essentials to bear even more costs… The government continues to let these people down, but the community is stepping up.”
McMillan said the ending of the program was particularly risky for people who had to do activities to get their Centrelink payment, such as those on JobSeeker.
“While living on just $46 a day, those on unemployment payments are forced to leave home to attend activities. A positive COVID test is required to avoid payment suspension when isolating and PCR tests have become increasingly hard to get.”
He said the idea for the project came when Health Minister Mark Butler confirmed the Albanese government would not be extending the free RATs program launched by the previous Coalition government, against the urging of the Australian Medical Association.
McMillan said system outages on Sunday meant that some welfare recipients were unable to access RATs on the last day of the scheme.
The Ratbag mutual aid project takes donations online and distributes RATs to concession and low income health care card holders who register on its website.
Since launching on Sunday, it has also received donation offers from suppliers able to supply the tests in bulk.
People who do not have a concession card because they are unable to access a welfare payment can also submit a request for access to free RATs through the website.