The ACT government has renewed calls for a permanent increase to JobSeeker amid concerns demand for homelessness services will rise if the payment is slashed to its pre-pandemic level.
The Barr government will allocate $2.6 million in next month's ACT budget to housing and homelessness services, expanding some programs and allowing others introduced at the height of the crisis to continue.
Demand for homelessness services rose 9 per cent in 2019-20, as more than 4140 Canberrans sought help amid the summer fire season and COVID-19 shutdown.
ACT Homelessness Minister Rebecca Vassarotti was concerned demand would spike again without a permanent increase to the rate of the Commonwealth's unemployment benefit.
The federal government has yet to decide on the future of the payment beyond March 31, when the $150 per-fortnight supplement ends.
The supplement was $550 a fortnight when it was introduced last March, before the top-up was reduced to $250 from late September until the end of 2020.
If the base rate was not increased on April 1, a single adult with no children on JobSeeker would be paid $565 a fortnight - equal to about $40 a day.
"I am deeply, deeply concerned about the prospect of JobSeeker going back to pre-COVID days, because we know $40 day is not enough to live on particularly in a city such as Canberra that has a high cost of living," Ms Vassarotti said.
"We know there was significant challenges from people on that form of income support and so if that is withdrawn we will expect to see increased demand."
Chief Minister Andrew Barr said a permanent increase to income support would be the most effective means of lifting people out of poverty, as he again pointed to an ANU study which found the supplement had prevented more than 2.2 million falling into poverty during the worst of the crisis.
"The stronger the economy is, the more jobs there are, the higher people's income ... then that reduces poverty," Mr Barr said.
"But there will always be some people who will either be between jobs or [are] long-term unemployed for whom that income support is absolutely critical.
"There has not been a single measure in the past five decades more effective at eliminating poverty than increasing the rate of the unemployment benefit."
Asked if the ACT government could offer its own form of income support if the Commonwealth payment was cut, Mr Barr said: "No, I don't think we can in that direct way."
But he said the government was supporting low-income earners in other ways, such as through investment in public housing and investment in homelessness services.
The government was in the middle of a 10-year, $1 billion program of building new public housing dwellings. But advocates said it wouldn't be enough to cover an estimated shortfall of 3000 dwellings in the nation's capital.
Housing Minister Yvette Berry acknowledged there "[will] always be more than we need to do" but pointed out the ACT was, per capita, a nation leader in public housing investment and dwelling numbers.
Mr Barr then took a swipe at the NSW government, accusing it of a "chronic underinvestment" in public and social housing which had resulted in a shortage of affordable properties in the wider capital region.
"We can do a lot here and we are, but we will never be able to provide housing for the ACT and most of NSW," he said.
"We have to be frank about the reality that the government just over the border, and this region, needs more housing. It's not just the ACT government's responsibility to provide it."