Support Net -- Saca's anti-poverty program

At the beginning of March, Salvadoran president Tony Saca announced his multi-faceted program aimed at assisting the portion of the country's population which lives in extreme poverty. The program goes by the name "Red Solidaria" or "Support Net." A centerpiece of the program is a plan to pay subsidies of 15 to 20 dollars per month to poor families in those departments where poverty is greatest.

More details of the program were outlined in La Prensa Grafica this week. The subsidy payments are now scheduled to begin in October. Fifteen dollars a month will be paid to a qualifying family with one child twelve years old or younger. Twenty dollars if the family has two or more children.

The October commencement of the program will depend on El Salvador receiving two loans from the World Bank and the Interamerican Development Bank. Those loans are in the preliminary stages of negotiation, and there will need to be approval by El Salvador's National Assembly. Other details yet to be finalized include the method of developing a census of qualifying families as well as the method of distributing the subsidies. The current plan is to distribute the funds through banks, but this raises concerns about the ability of the poor, who certainly don't have bank accounts, to get to the financial institutions.

El Faro continued its good coverage of the developing plan with profiles of two families. As noted, only families with children 12 years old and younger are eligible to receive assistance. The head of the household must sign an agreement that the money will be used for the nutrition and schooling of children and must ensure that children who are old enough attend school. One of the profiles features a family of 12 children who will be eligible for the monthly stipend. The parents express their doubts that twenty dollars per month can go very far for such a large family. They also worry about many details of the program which have still not been explained, three months after its announcement.

The second profile describes two families with children aged 13 and 15. The families live in extreme poverty, but without children below the age of 12, they are not eligible for the subsidies. A government spokesman explains that the government is trying to do the best it can with its limited resources.

Tim's comment: This new anti-poverty program is worth watching. It is a small step, and there are many details which could be stumbling blocks, but at least it is a step. It is easy to predict, however, that starting payments at the end of the year will strengthen the suspicions of the Left that this plan is really just an attempt to buy the votes of the poor in the spring 2006 elections.