BUSINESSES are anxiously looking toward the weeks and months ahead following the end of a major support package that steered the economy through the recession.
The JobKeeper wage subsidy officially ended on Sunday, potentially leaving up to to 150,000 people without a job.
For Cally Hotel manager Lucas Reid, businesses are a long way from their pre-pandemic earnings.
Staff at the Warrnambool pub haven't been provided with JobKeeper payments since December 31 due to rules requiring businesses to be down 30 per cent.
"Being down 22 per cent and then 19 per cent we weren't eligible and had to fend for ourselves," Mr Reid said.
"It's good and it's bad because it means businesses are recovering but there's no way that being 20 per cent down is good when fixed costs are still exactly the same.
"However I do think it will make it a bit easier find staff because when the JobSeeker payment decreased people who weren't working had to go out and find a job.
"It's a catch-22 situation."
75,000 people can go to the football but I can still only have 174 people in my pub.Lucas Reid
Mr Reid was able to keep all his staff on when his businesses was taken off JobKeeper.
He said it might be easier to find staff now, but density requirements were still significantly hurting businesses.
"For the May Races for instance we are licensed for 174 people at the moment. Normally we can have 500, and on that weekend we can have up to 900.
"We can only have 174 people yet all the costs including music are the same.
"The show still has to go on because people will come down and say the May Carnival is different, we might go somewhere else next year, and we're trying to avoid that happening.
"75,000 people can go to the football but I can still only have 174 people in my pub.
"I just think we should be going back to our normal capacities and then dealing with outbreaks if they happen.
"Look at Brisbane, they're going into a three day lockdown, if we have to come to that it will be much better to do that and have full capacity than what's in place now."
About one million people were still on JobKeeper as of January, after 2.7 million people and 680,000 businesses had transited off the subsidy since it was introduced a year ago at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Warrnambool and District Food Share executive officer Dedy Friebe expects a surge of people to come forward looking for support following the end of JobKeeper.
"Like all things in the pandemic it's all totally unpredictable but you have to be prepared," he said.
"We've spent the last couple of months stockpiling groceries so that should there be a surge we are ready to respond immediately.
"We're up about 30 per cent this month already."
After Easter the team is braced for a wave of calls for help.
"Certainly after Easter I'm expecting backlash to the decision to cease welfare payments.
"There's so many people out there with very reduced income and that's going to be reflected in agencies being contacted with SOS's from families and individuals.
"Agencies like Salvos, St Vincent's and mental health services have seen numbers through the roof this year, who are then coming to us for food relief.
"We're honoured to be in a good position in terms of stock but for example Brauer College just donated 650 kilograms of stock and that will be gone in a month."
He joins Shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers in concern the government has pulled the plug on JobKeeper too soon.
"We are still in the pandemic, there's till widespread unemployment and that will surge because businesses won't be able to prop people up anymore.
"The end of the food chain says people need assistance because they won't have money for food.
"It was more than a welfare payment, it was helping to keep businesses running.
"It's not just Warrnambool central; every town from here to Portland, Hamilton and in-between will be affected by this government cut at this time.
"I don't think we are out of the woods yet, I don't think they have chosen the right time to withdraw the payments."
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