ASKED what the Department of Human Services considers its overarching mission in its drought support role, the big boss pauses for several seconds.
"Ultimately, what all of the organisations are seeking to achieve is to demonstrate to farmers that they're not alone and isolated," Hank Jongen says.
"From our perspective, it's to - wherever possible - ensure that they receive a level of financial support that enables them to survive and to map out a direction for the future that aims to improve their financial situation overall."
But the DHS general manager says there's one major obstacle to that mission: people never even applying.
Mr Jongen was in Tamworth on Wednesday and will visit Armidale on Thursday, checking in on staff and spreading one key message: don't miss out.
"We're very concerned that farmers may be self-assessing themselves as not being eligible," Mr Jongen said.
"What we're trying to do is get farmers to understand that they best thing they could do is just give [the Farmer Assistance Hotline] a call on 13 23 16.
"Even if they're not eligible for Farm Household Allowance (FHA), there's a range of other support that’s available, and we don’t want farmers to feel isolated in these tough times."
Allowance facts, figures
Mr Jongen didn't have the figures to hand for the number of applications received and knocked back for this area; the NDL has asked for those to come.
But between the Tamworth and Armidale areas, he said 160 people were accessing the FHA and had just received their second lump sum payment: $6000 for couples and $3600 for singles.
Those not yet on the allowance were urged to apply before June 1 to get theirs.
And there was "no wrong door for a farmer" to seek help; they simply had to make contact with a group or individual such as Centrelink, Rural Aid or a rural financial counsellor.
"It's a tightly knit network [and] if you come in at any point, then you can be connected to a range of other services."
The average processing time for an FHA application was 35 days.
"But I need to make the point that that date is influenced by a number of things," Mr Jongen said - such as needing more information from the applicant.
"For us the clock doesn't stop ticking [but] let me just make it absolutely clear: processing these claims is a priority for us … because we recognise the importance of these payments.”
"If you ring us on that number, you can talk through these issues and our staff will support you through them."
'Always here to help'
Megan Bachali is a farm household case officer in Tamworth and works with people once they come onto the FHA.
She's been in the role since September and has 11 counterparts in central NSW, which includes Tamworth, Armidale, Gunnedah Inverell, Parkes and Orange - up from two case officers in that area before then.
She said she had "good feedback" from her customers, who "like the support that we offer; having a dedicated case officer".
One of her tasks is to help FHA recipients compile a financial improvement agreement: a plan for putting themselves in a better position long-term.
"That could go into a number of different areas, depending on what their goals are," Mrs Bachali said.
"It might be improving productivity on the farm; it might be obtaining off-farm income; drought-proofing the farm.
"It just depends on where they want to head, so they certainly do guide that and we're just there to support them."
Mrs Bachali’s said her caseload was "probably sitting at about 100 at the moment".
It could be "difficult at times, hearing some of the stories", but the staffers and their customers had "good resources … to help us", such as social workers.
"It can be tough, it can be," she said.
"You do hear some sad stories, but we're a community and we all support each other, so we get people tapped into the right resources around the place."