Czech Govt removes "in Roma Localities" from name of agency set to expand
At today's cabinet session the Czech Government extended the activity of the Agency for Social Inclusion until 2015. The Agency is 70 % funded by EU monies, with the rest covered as part of the budget for the Office of the Government, which oversees the Agency. Its budget should be increased over the next three years, thanks to which it will be able to offer to collaborate with another 17 towns and villages interested in addressing the situation of socially disadvantaged inhabitants.
The Agency was originally slated to run only until the end of this year. Since 2008, 33 municipalities out of a total of about 200 featuring ghettos have taken advantage of the Agency's help. "Interest in collaboration has been expressed by 100 towns and villages. From this it is obvious that the demand for collaboration with the Agency significantly exceeds the current offerings and it would be desirable to support it in future," reads the document discussed at today's session.
The motion to continue the Agency's activities was submitted to the ministers today by Czech Prime Minister Petr Nečas (Civic Democrats - ODS) and Czech Government Human Rights Commissioner Monika Šimůnková. "The Government decided to extend the work of the Agency for Social Inclusion because it has proven itself to be an efficient tool for addressing the issue of social exclusion, which is one of the most serious social problems in the Czech Republic today. The activity of the Agency was also included in the Government's program declaration," Šimůnková said.
"We hear media reports on an almost daily basis about how the situation in the excluded localities is continually deteriorating. However, what is often not mentioned are the good results of the collaboration of the Agency with 20 towns and villages. The Agency has become a genuine partner without whom many mayors cannot imagine carrying out the work of social inclusion," Šimůnková said.
"Naturally there are also voices that are critical of the Agency. In three of the 33 towns in which the Agency has worked to date, the collaboration ended early because of disagreements between municipal leaders and the Agency over how to address their situations. However, the number of positive reactions greatly predominates," she said.
The Agency has so far helped the towns and villages as well as other partners submit more than 200 project requests, of which 42 are already being implemented worth CZK 574 million. A further CZK 1.1 billion worth of project funding from the Structural Funds have been submitted for evaluation or are about to be submitted.
Staff of the Agency in many towns have helped to ensure funding for field social workers who work daily with people in the excluded localities. Counseling centers have been either reconstructed or completely built from scratch in the towns of Cheb, Havířov, and Krásná Lípa. People can visit these centers for information about how to get out of debt, look for work, and complete their educations. In towns such as Břeclav, Jáchymov and Most, clubs for children have been set up or are being set up so they can spend their free time in meaningful activities such as games, sports and other programs. In Kutná Hora and Přerov, Agency staff assisted in the creation of firms to employ people with low qualifications. In Broumov and Přerov, schools have acquired funding for teaching assistants to help children from poor families keep up in mainstream schools so they will not be recommended to attend the practical primary schools designed for mentally disabled children.
"The Government's decision means we can announce our offerings to towns and villages for collaboration as of next year," explained the director of the Agency, Martin Šimáček. "Towns and villages with excluded localities on their territories will receive a letter with an offer of collaboration. The deadline for applying is 30 September. In November the Agency's Monitoring Committee will select 17 towns and villages in which to begin work, eight as of January and another nine as of July 2013."
Nečas and Šimůnková requested the budget of the Office of the Government be increased for the Agency next year by almost CZK 14 million, by CZK 13 million for 2013 and by CZK 11.5 million for 2014. The Czech Finance Minister was against the budget increase.
The phrase "in Roma Localities" will also be removed from the official name of the Agency. The new name should better describe the fact that the Agency does not serve only Romani people, but all residents in excluded areas. Some Romani people have criticized the Agency for not doing much for members of the minority.
Experts estimate there are approximately a quarter of a million Romani people in the Czech Republic. Roughly one-third of them live in ghettos. Most of the adults in these areas are officially unemployed, families are welfare-dependent, and children attend "special schools". Six years ago, according to an analysis, there were about 300 such localities around the country. The Agency's management says another 100 such places have newly arisen since then.
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