In an attempt to prevent hunger from becoming yet another crisis in an already emergency heavy time, President Mauricio Macri’s government introduced plans over the weekend to bring aid to the poorest areas of the country. Serious concern has been raised about Argentina’s poverty rate in recent months, which has been exacerbated by high inflation, increases in utility bills and food distribution shortages.
Various steps are being taken, including raising the Food Security Program budget (that already benefits the most vulnerable sectors of the country’s population), from AR $2.2 billion to AR $3 billion this year, as well as providing more funds for school dining halls and soup kitchens.
The Food Security Program is supposed to provide struggling families up to AR $150 of credit each month to spend on food, but according to press reports, funds have not been evenly distributed across the country for some time. Last year, Tucumán Province received AR $4.3 billion in subsidies, however in Córdoba Province the program was only applied in some municipalities and in San Luis Province, not at all.
200,000 beneficiaries of the Argentina Trabaja (Argentina Works) Plan (introduced in August 2009 by former President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner to help unemployed persons join cooperatives) and the Ellas Hacen (They Do) Plan (implemented in 2013 to assist vulnerable mothers or victims of gender-based violence), will receive 20 percent more funding (from AR$ 2,600 to AR$ 3,120 in May). Meanwhile, merenderos (soup kitchens) that are managed by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will receive a 20 percent boost. An agreement, which is due to be signed, will guarantee at least 90,000 monthly snacks (including cereals and strengthening milk) until the end of the year.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Social Development headed by Carolina Stanley together with Interior Minister Rogelio Frigerio are preparing the Zero Poverty Plan, to bring benefits to 100 towns and villages populated by 5,000 inhabitants or less where there is a lack of basic infrastructure and services. This is especially true in the north of Argentina, which has been affected by severe flooding. Additionally, another plan that is set to launch shortly aims to deliver 120,000 food bags (containing 10 basic necessities, including flour, noodles, oil, sugar and mate) to 11 provinces.
The new plans will also provide financial support to school dining halls in Buenos Aires Province and 10 other provinces, some of which did not receive any assistance last year. Schools will see their funding increase by 30 percent; in the province of Buenos Aires, schools will now secure around AR $40 million per month, while in the provinces of Santa Fe and Jujuy, dining halls will be given roughly AR $16 million and AR $8 million each. In Buenos Aires alone, the new funding should bring benefits to around 1.5 million children.
In Buenos Aires Province, Governor María Eugenia Vidal has already put into action a social assistance plan amounting to AR $9.2 billion. The program includes the delivery of 450 tons of food to community centers, while soup kitchens now receive around 10,000 snacks daily.
At the end of May, Cabinet Chief Marcos Peña admitted that the country was at “its worst moment” in terms of poverty and unemployment since the new administration took office. In April, a study conducted by the Argentine Catholic University (UCA) determined that the poverty toll in Argentina had risen from 29 percent of the population to 32.6 during the first four months of the year, meaning that 13 million Argentines are currently living under the poverty line. With the winter months closing in, the government needs to take the necessary measures to stem the crisis.