New multiple-birth grant recommended to ease unexpected costs facing families of multiples – ABC News

New multiple-birth grant recommended to ease unexpected costs facing families of multiples
After finding out she was pregnant a second time, Silje Andersen-Cooke and her partner were unsurprisingly stunned to find out that it was, in fact, three babies, not one.
But as they prepared to double their size and become a family of six, Ms Andersen-Cooke said the next wave of shock was how little financial support there was for families facing unexpected costs from having multiple babies.   
"Financially, we anticipated having, you know, two children max, and you anticipate that you'll be able to hand down the cost; you'll be able to hand down the clothes that your first child had used," she said.
"That just goes out the window when you have multiples; you need to buy not just additional clothes, but specialist equipment.
"We needed a pram from overseas, and we had to pay the same amount in shipping as the pram costs … so it ended up being around $4,000.
"We just weren't prepared for the financial shock of multiples."  
And while Ms Andersen-Cooke makes it clear that she would not have it any other way, she said it was conflicting being so excited about the adventure of triplets and nerve-racking facing the financial implications.  
Ms Andersen-Cooke is also the director of the Australian Multiple Birth Association (AMBA), which has released a report today detailing the size of the financial burden on multiples families and calling for the government to help lighten the load.
The report found that a mix of factors, including more costs associated with time in hospital, lost work opportunities because of pre-term birth, and buying more essentials and equipment, make having multiple births significantly more expensive.
Given hospital costs in Australia are mostly, if not completely, covered by Medicare or private health insurance, the report still found that even excluding medical expenses, twins cost around $13,000 more compared to a single birth in the first year.
That number grows even more for triplets or higher-order multiples.
The federal government announces a plan to gradually increase paid parental leave entitlements until parents have six months of paid leave per family by 2026. 
As a result, the report's first recommendation is for the federal government to create a new "multiple-births grant" of $15,000 for twins and then a further $15,000 for every extra child.
For triplets or other higher-order multiples, that $15,000 would be split into $10,000 to be spent as families need, and the other $5,000 would be via application for car or house modifications.
Based on forecasted birth rates for 2023, the report estimates the yearly cost of the grant at just over $68 million.
Ms Andersen-Cooke said having that kind of help before she had her triplets would have been a huge relief.
"I might get emotional just talking about this; it would be absolutely life-changing," she said.
"I cannot tell you the amount of stress that it puts on these families, and I was fortunate enough to have my friends and family around.
"But there are multiple birth families out there that I've spoken to who don't have the support, and they're isolated and don't have a voice; that's who we're speaking for in this report." 
The federal government currently offers assistance in the form of a newborn payment, newborn supplement, and a multiple-birth allowance, all of which are income means-tested.
The multiple-birth allowance provides around $4,500 a year for triplets or $6,000 a fortnight for quadruplets or more, but families are only eligible if they fall under the Family Tax Benefit income threshold and twin families are excluded.
The report also recommended expanding the criteria for the allowance to include twins and other higher-order multiple families who may be ineligible.
Another scheme the report recommends be tweaked to cater to multiples families is Paid Parental Leave, with an extra eight weeks of primary and second carer added.
AMBA noted it would bring Australia in line with other OECD countries as well as nations like Chile, which offers an additional three months for multiple births, Japan, which offers eight additional weeks, and Peru and Portugal, which offer another four weeks.
The final two recommendations are the creation of pre-term baby leave to cover multiples families who have pre-term births and currently begin their parental leave while their babies are in hospital and in-home support packages to help those who struggle to get everyone out of the house to appointments.
"The number one issue for me personally was that I want it to go to these appointments; I wanted to see a physio, but I couldn't leave my house," Ms Andersen-Cooke said.
"Like, how was I going to get there? How do I take the babies? How do I organise it?
"I wanted to see a psychologist, so I had to try and get somebody to actually come to my house because I wasn't able to attend, and it was so difficult to actually get that help; it was so discouraging."
Ms Andersen-Cooke is hopeful the federal government may take on board some of the report's recommendations ahead of the May budget.
Social Services Minister Amanda Rishworth met with AMBA earlier this month about the issue of financial assistance and was contacted by the ABC for comment.
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