By Atom Markarian
The Armenian government announced on Thursday an approximately 25 percent increase in modest cash benefits paid to some 140,000 families that are considered to live below the official poverty line.
Officials said each of them will now get an average of 9,400 drams ($16.6) a month.
That amount will still be nowhere near enough to meet the basic needs of the low-income families. It might even be below their electricity bills in the winter months.
According to government calculations, a single resident of the country needs at least 17,500 drams a month for food expenses alone.
Minister of Labor and Social Affairs Aghvan Vartanian said the measure was made possible additional social spending earmarked in the government’s 2004 budget. He said more such increases are envisaged for the coming years.
However, the so-called “family benefits” are unlikely to approach the per-capita subsistence threshold in the foreseeable future. Under the government’s poverty reduction program launched last year they will reach only 15,600 drams in 2015. The program envisages to bring the proportion of Armenian households living in poverty down from the current 50 percent to 19 percent by that time.
The existing social security net was introduced in 2000 to change the previous system that had at one point covered as many as 250,000 families officially listed as poor. But many of them were thought to have other undisclosed sources of revenue.
Vartanian said that a few thousand non-poor families may still be unjustly benefiting from state support and pledged to further revise the existing social security lists this year. He said his ministry will replace them with other families that are in greater need.