Rollout of Solidarity Net -- Saca's anti-poverty program

Solidarity Net, the anti-poverty program of Tony Saca's ARENA government commenced distributing subsidies this week to some of the poorest Salvadorans. The program is aimed at the portion of the Salvadoran population living in extreme poverty. Families identified as being among the country's poorest qualify to receive $15 per month if they have one school age child and $20 monthly for two or more children. In order to receive the payments, a parent must commit to have the children attend school and must enroll them with the local health units.

The program is being funded by a $21 million loan from the World Bank. The World Bank press release states:

As a central element of Red Solidaria, the Government of El Salvador has established, and is implementing, a conditional cash transfer program to encourage extremely poor families to send their 5-15 year old children to pre-school and primary school, fully immunize children younger than 5, and regularly monitor the health and nutrition status of pregnant mothers and infants.

The Social Protection Project will support the governmentÂ’s expansion of the Red Solidaria Program to 80,000 rural families, living in the 100 poorest municipalities, over a five-year period. The project will do so by supporting the following activities:

Expanding the existing basic package of maternal and child health services, and the strengthening of community-based interventions to prevent chronic malnutrition in the rural areas of the 100 targeted municipalities.

Ensuring that all members of eligible families are incorporated into the national civil registry system and possess the personal identification documents to gain access to basic public services – either in the form of a national identity document or a birth certificate.
The program was inaugurated in a ceremony in Torola, in Morazan Department in the eastern portion of the country. La Prensa ran this picture of Tony Saca handing out some of the first money payments, and
El Diario de Hoy provided a profile of the residents of Torola where the first subsidies were handed out.

Pictures of Tony Saca handing money to grateful poor people will contribute to the claims of the FMLN and other opposition parties that Solidarity Net is just political propaganda and a way of buying votes. However, the La Prensa story does make note of the FMLN mayor of Torola thanking Saca for his support to the poorest residents of the area. Diario CoLatino reported criticism from Cambio Democratico and FMLN legislators who called the program insufficient, "propagandistic" and a failure to address the root causes of poverty in the country.

The government plans to have the Solidarity Net payments reach 20 thousand families across the country. The program is expected to cost $800,000 for the remainder of 2005 and $6 million for 2006.

The government also announced an $85 million loan from the
InterAmerican Development Bank to support improvements in the education system and infrastructure in the poor communities served by Solidarity Net.

"“The project is part of National Education Plan 2021, the Salvadoran government's long-term strategy," said IDB project team leader Gustavo Cuadra. "“Its investments and innovations are aimed at improving education services in the 100 poorest rural municipalities and in 150 urban schools facing the toughest teaching challenges."

The new project will expand the supply of flexible education services at the preschool level (for children ages 4 to 6) and the three basic school levels, from the first to the ninth grades.

The resources will support a curricular update to improve students'’ competence in language, mathematics, science and social studies; the strengthening of English instruction; training for teachers' professional development; infrastructure improvements in rural and urban schools; and the reinforcement of MINED'’s national evaluation system.

Rural municipalities were selected on the basis of a poverty map and an education lag index developed by the Salvadoran government. School networks will be organized with broad participation of parents and teachers to promote timely enrollment of children as well as regular attendance. Educators will be trained to improve student retention, and accelerated education strategies will be implemented for students who fall behind.

When Solidarity Net was announced in March, I commented that Solidarity Net is a step in the right direction, but that there are still many questions about the government's ability to implement such a program effectively. I will continue to follow the program in the months ahead.