The Armenian government announced on Monday additional financial assistance to low-income families hit hard by the economic fallout from the coronavirus epidemic.
The government said it will pay half of all electricity and natural gas bills for February that did not exceed a combined 15,000 drams ($30) per household.
Garegin Baghramian, the chairman of the Public Services Regulatory Commission (PSRC), estimated that some 220,000 households will be eligible for the subsidy.
Armenia’s national utility companies already agreed, at the government’s urging, late last month not to cut off for now electricity, natural gas and water supplies to people failing to pay their bills because of coronavirus-related economic disruptions.
“Those who have utility debts [for February] will have them reduced in a corresponding way, while those who don’t will receive advance payments that will cover their next payments,” Deputy Prime Minister Mher Grigorian said during a cabinet meeting held on Monday.
Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said the government will pay only half of those utility bills because it does not want to undermine what he described as a “strong culture of paying utility fees” existing in Armenia.
“The nominal amount of this assistance may seem modest, but the same citizens [eligible for it] will still be able to benefit from other schemes,” added Pashinian.
He referred to one-off cash handouts of between 68,000 drams and 136,000 drams to various categories of the country’s population approved by his cabinet in recent weeks. Those include registered workers who have lost their jobs or been placed on unpaid during the epidemic, microbusiness owners and some pregnant women.
Under its broader stimulus package approved late last month, the government is also subsidizing commercial banks to provide cheap credit to small and medium-sized businesses (SMEs) and farmers.
Artur Javadian, the governor of the Central Bank of Armenia (CBA), announced on Monday that 741 SMEs, agribusiness firms and farmers have already qualified for low-interest or interest-free loans worth a total of 10.5 billion drams ($21 million).
“There were pessimistic claims that nobody is going to apply for such loans because they don’t need such aid and that a different kind of aid is needed,” Pashinian said in this regard. “But these figures show that there is a fairly good decree of [borrowing] activity and I’m sure that we will have even better indicators … in the coming days.”