Federation of Māori Authorities chair Traci Houpapa says the government's response is a good start, but Māori need targeted help. Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

Māori businesses hit hard by the coronavirus say the government’s $12.1 billion relief package will save whānau livelihoods.

Those in the primary sector and tourism are under heavy pressure, with some wasting no time in applying for the new support.

The past five weeks have been a struggle for forestry contractors Pomeroy Logging in Whanganui, who were abruptly told to stop production last month.

Director Jennie Pomeroy said the business has been under huge pressure, due to the downturn in exports to China.

They have had to cut staff hours right back, resort to selling firewood, and even let two workers go.

“Laying guys off is awful because I know that they have all got families and they have all got bills to pay and it is just awful having to say ‘look, we just don’t have enough work to keep you all going’,” she said.

“Some of them have had work they can go on to in other industries, and one other guy, he really didn’t, he was at a loss, but it was one of those things where we had to keep the bare minimum to run the operation.

“We just didn’t have any money up our sleeves.”

So it was a huge relief when Pomeroy saw the details of the rescue package on Tuesday. She said the new wage subsidy of $585 per week for fulltime staff will benefit them most.

“It’s great – I think it is really good! We are definitely one of the crews or businesses who have been impacted by more than 30 percent of our usual earnings so that will be us getting the wage subsidy which will be a really big help.

“We might be able to get people back.

Photographers Soldiers Road Portraits work in close proximity with up to 50 people a day, and may have to cancel all their bookings for their nationwide tour next month.

Co-founder Taaniko Nordstrom said the business will take a further hit because she is in self-isolation for the next fortnight after returning from Hawaii yesterday.

However, she welcomes the new wage subsidy.

“I am grateful for anything and I understand that lots of other countries don’t have that assistance and lots of other people are worried about their jobs as well,” she said.

“I make my own money – my own mahi – and without it, I am almost dependent on what the government can provide me until I know more or until I can create safe working practices.”

Nordstrom said she hopes the government will accept her application and those of other self-employed artists.

Lack of Māori target
There are fears the virus could wipe $500 million dollars off the Māori economy.

Federation of Māori Authorities chair Traci Houpapa said the government’s response was a good start, but Māori need targeted help.

“I know that our Māori economy will be hit hard by this, we unfortunately enjoy negative social and economic statistics for some parts of our communities… they are going to be first hit especially where there are layoffs,” she said.

“My expectation is that there would have been a more specific focus or comment with regard to how they propose to provide relief.. to shore up Māori employment and to shore up Māori SMEs [small and medium enterprises] and Ahuwhenua.”

On the East Coast, people burst into tears of relief when they heard about what’s on offer.

It’s tough times in the region where the downturn in exports to China has seen hundreds of forestry workers laid off.

This week’s announcement also includes $500m for the health sector.

Manukau Institute of Technology senior lecturer Wiremu Manaia said the government and health response so far has been good.

But he said Māori health providers must challenge DHBs on what their communities will need.

“Take control of what you know – because you know your people and you know what your people need, demand that that be met,” he said.

“Don’t sit back and wait for it to be delivered, get out there and make a noise and demand that it be delivered in the way you want it to be delivered.”

“Māori know what Māori need.”

Dr Manaia said he is especially concerned about kaumātua and kuia who are at heightened risk of dying from Covid 19, and he is urging whānau to monitor them closely and keep them safe.

This article was originally published on RNZ and re-published with permission.

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