Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta said that he would overhaul social welfare plans if elected president in this year’s elections. His comments came this morning at an announcement aimed at recipients of “Ciudadanía Porteña” (Buenos Aires Citizenship), a social welfare program in Buenos Aires city.
He was speaking at Making Noise (Haciendo Ruido in Spanish), a community center in the neighborhood of Barracas.
“I vow to end the intermediation of social welfare plans and the organizations that profit from the needs of those who have the least,” Rodríguez Larreta told the press. “And I will bring this system to the rest of the country.”
The city mayor, a presidential hopeful for opposition coalition Juntos por el Cambio, was referring to the current social welfare arrangements. Programs such as the Potenciar Trabajo (Empowering Work) unemployment scheme, commonly called “plans”, are often administered by Argentina’s powerful social movements, rather than being paid directly to recipients by the government. However, this has generated discontent among critics, who allege those handling the funds of clientelism and corruption.
“There’s no doubt that, in a country where four out of 10 people are poor, we need to help those in need,” he said. “But we have to discuss the best way to do so.”
According to Rodríguez Larreta, social welfare plans have to be “direct, temporary and must include something given in return.” During today’s announcement, he said that the new initiative aimed at Ciudadanía Porteña recipients will require them to receive 40 hours a year of in-person and virtual training. Activities will include drywall installation, painting and decorating, and cellphone repair, as well as digital skills such as giving presentations, marketing, and testing apps. It will be open to 10,000 unemployed people without children aged between 25 and 60.
Those who are already in the Ciudadanía Porteña program will have to update their personal details in May, and will be contacted with job and training opportunities on the basis of their profiles. Those who fail to update their information will be removed from the program, which currently provides vulnerable families with a subsidy to cover their basic needs.
Afterward, the city will connect recipients with the labor market. Attending interviews will be compulsory, and welfare payments will be cut if they miss more than two of them. Recipients will be allowed to turn down job offers if they are offered salaries below the minimum wage, the workplace requires them to take three or more buses, subways or other forms of transport from where they live, or for health reasons.
If they turn down more than two offers without justification, they will be taken out of the program.
“If the social welfare plan is not an incentive that leads to a formal job, then it has to be cut,” Rodríguez Larreta said.
The current government has recently been criticized by the right-wing opposition for its administration of the Potenciar Trabajo (Empowering Work) program. Social movements have also held frequent protest camps outside the Social Development Ministry, where Minister Victoria Tolosa Paz has brought in requirements that the program’s recipients validate their identities online in order to continue receiving the payments.
Argentine representatives frequently discuss the issue with the International Monetary Fund’s authorities in the context of the country’s agreement with the lending institution. Recently, the IMF said in a report that the government will make “efforts to strengthen targeting” of Potenciar Trabajo, which benefits 1.2 million people with a monthly payment equalling half of the minimum wage – currently AR$42,256 (US$185 at the official rate, US$98 at the MEP dollar rate).