The government doesn’t like it one bit, but the Senate gave it a big thumbs up yesterday: it’s the law declaring a Social and Food Emergency in Argentina.
The law, passed by a Frente Para La Victoria led majority in the Senate, and vigorously supported by social organisations and the Church, aims to boost welfare payments, found a People’s Economic Council, and generate a million new jobs.
It received support from almost everyone in the opposition, which enjoys a majority in the upper house: 45 senators voted in favor, while 11 Cambiemos senators voted against.
Juan Manuel Abal Medina, one of three senators who introduced the law to the senate, described it as “historic” saying it represented “an important step towards replacing the idea of social welfare with the idea of work.” The law, if successful, would aim to create 1 million new jobs through the Social Income Working Program, a 2009 program which provided income to the vulnerable or unemployed in exchange for working collectively to improve infrastructure in their local neighborhood. It would also see a 15% increase in support for children and pregnant women.
It may also see the creation of a “complementary salary” for those who work in the informal economy – frequently associated with inadequate employment conditions and poverty, and overpopulated with women, migrants and other marginalized social groups — as a way of assuring they earn at least minimum wage.
“Those who work should be considered workers and the road that we are taking with the approval of this law is a step forward towards a society that is more just, more equal and more integrated,” said senator Juan Manuel Abal Medina.
The law comes about in the context of a delicate social and economic situation. 2016 has been a difficult year. Inflation is coming in at over 40 percent (the highest in South America rate outside of Venezuela), 1 in 3 Argentines are “poor,” and the economy is shrinking by most reports. Soup kitchens are at serving at capacity and the sense of unease is felt at a societal level with 9 out of 10 Argentines fear being the victim of a violent crime.
PRO senators, however, are painting it as immature and potentially destructive, “a catalogue of good intentions” that will only cause harm. They warn that its implementation will have a fiscal cost of around 50 billion pesos (320 million USD). All this at a time when they are trying to fix an economy on the brink of ruin after years of fiscal management and heavy spending.
“We’ve approved a food emergency bill and we intend to make the Ministry of Social Development create a million new jobs without knowing how we’re going to do that,” said senator Luis Naidenoff.
The opposition has downplayed the negative budgetary impact, proposing the measures can be funded comfortably by new taxes on gaming and mining. Fernando “Pino” Solanas, who leads the political party Proyecto Sur, claimed “it’s false that we don’t have resources, what we have is a massive insensitivity to social issues.”
Now it’s a question of timing. The Upper House has until the 20th of November to vote on the law, which is to say, today and tomorrow. In an effort to hasten the legislation, social organisations Barrios de Pie and CCC will be protesting outside Congress tomorrow. However, the government can probably stall, putting it on ice until next year. Failing that, President Mauricio Macri has indicated that he may veto the law. It would be his second veto since taking office. He blocked The Anti-Layoff Law earlier in May of this year.