Czech Christian Democrats, SocDems want to stop the use of vouchers in material distress benefits
The Czech Christian Democrats (KDU-ČSL) and Czech Social Democrats (ČSSD) want to absolutely abolish the compulsory disbursal of part of aid to those in material distress in vouchers instead of money and are asking for a return to the previous approach in which beneficiaries received their welfare in money and Labor Offices could decide to disburse just part of the benefits in vouchers in individual cases only. Amendments were submitted by both the ČSSD and the KDU-ČSL during the second reading yesterday of other bills on the issue to make sure that benefits paid exclusively in money will be received by some groups of the more impoverished beneficiaries.
The disbursal of aid to those in material distress in the form of vouchers was adopted and took effect as of December 2017 in an effort to limit welfare abuse. Beneficiaries of the subsistence contribution who received it for more than six months last year and who remain eligible for it now get between 35 % and 65 % of the benefit in vouchers.
The beneficiaries can buy groceries, basic hygiene supplies, baby supplies, over-the-counter medicines, school supplies and clothing using the vouchers, but not alcohol or cigarettes. "That [approach] is a dead end," Czech MP Roman Sklenák (ČSSD) said of the change.
Under the current state of affairs, according to the MP, beneficiaries are forced to make significantly more expensive purchases using the vouchers. They are also unable to afford some goods and services at all.
One bill submitted by ANO, and another submitted by a group of MPs from ČSSD, KDU-ČSL, the Pirate Party and TOP 09, differ from each other in their designation of the groups of beneficiaries who, instead of vouchers, should get exclusively money. The lower house's Social Affairs Committee has supported both versions of the bill.
In practice, according to the authors of both bills, it has been demonstrated that compulsory vouchers have increased bureaucracy and caused problems for some beneficiaries. Moreover, some impoverished people are now reselling their vouchers - or even the groceries they buy with them - at a loss in order to access money.
Benefits disbursed in money only, according to both bills, should be restored for beneficiaries living in residential facilities managed by social services. The ANO lawmakers' bill wants to make an exception for beneficiaries receiving a subsistence contribution of CZK 500 [EUR 19] or less monthly, for people who spend a month or more in hospital, and for people with limited legal capacity.
Local Labor Offices would also not have to issue vouchers in cases "deserving of special consideration" under the ANO bill. Czech MP Hana Aulická Jírovcová (Communists - KSČM), the rapporteur on the bills, is proposing that last option be deleted from the ANO bill, as she believes the opportunity to generally make exceptions could lead to the destruction of the entire system as now designed.
The other bill, drafted by the four parties, counts on never issuing vouchers to people on full disability pensions, to those 68 or older, or to those for whom the authorities have established a legal guardian. The authors of that bill want to abolish vouchers for persons living with disabilities who receive benefits for their care because of their moderate, severe or total dependency on the aid of others and for caretakers of persons living with disabilities.
Czech MP Vít Kaňkovský (KDU-ČSL) has also filed an amendment through which both bills would be combined. Other MPs have proposed other exceptions to the current law.
For example, Czech MP Lucie Šafránková of the "Freedom and Direct Democracy" (SPD) party is seeking exceptions for those 65 and older and for single parents of minor children. During its closing session the lower house will vote on a bill by Czech MP Jana Pastuchová (ANO) to reject the amendments proposed by the bill authored by the four parties.
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