Czech Labor Offices awarding housing benefits to more than half of all applicants
Apparently thousands of new homeless people will not be created by municipalities in the Czech Republic after all. At least not for now.
The crisis around housing benefits has apparently been smoothed over: Labor Offices will now be disbursing benefits to people living in residential hotels even when a local authority disapproves. The requirement for municipal consent to the benefits was introduced by an amendment that took effect in May.
Some municipalities took advantage of it to reject requests for housing benefits filed by people in the residential hotels across the board. According to estimates by the Platform for Social Housing, there was a risk that as many as 25 000 people might end up on the streets.
Now experts, local authorities and politicians have begun to discuss yet another amendment to the law on aid to those in material distress. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka was the first to criticize the change, saying it was essential for the law to be amended yet again.
Czech Human Rights Minister Jiří Dienstbier later joined the PM after having criticized the amendment to no avail when it was first adopted. Dienstbier called the amendment ill-conceived, not thought through, problematic and unsystematic.
A few days later Czech Interior Minister Milan Chovanec changed his interpretation of the amendment and stated that decisions on benefits by the municipalities are not binding, merely one of the recommendations to be taken into account by the Labor Offices. According to this interpretation, a Labor Office may disburse housing benefits even when a local authority objects.
Czech Labor and Social Affairs Ministry Michaela Marksová welcomed Chovanec's interpretation. However, she continues to insist that the next amendment to the law must be based on agreement between local authorities and the state and that the paragraph on municipal consent to housing benefit must be preserved.
Czech ombud Anna Šabatová, on the other hand, has called on legislators to remove that paragraph altogether. She believes that Chovanec's changed interpretation of the amendment "just ameliorates catastrophe but does not solve the problem".
The Czech Government Inter-ministerial Commission on Roma Community Affairs is another entity that has joined these challenges to the law. According to data from the Labor Office of the Czech Republic, as of 22 June municipalities had issued a total of 6 343 approvals of these benefits and 952 rejections.
The Labor Office has sent the local authorities approximately 12 000 applications total for their recommendation. The most rejects have come from the Moravian-Silesian Region (443) and Central Bohemia (139), with rejections in other regions being exponentially lower; neither Prague nor the Vysočina Region rejected any.
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