Staunton, July 31 – Despite the defeat of an LDPR bill calling for the introduction of food stamps to help Russia’s poor and despite the government’s opposition to that idea because it recalls the problems of the 1990s, pressure is building in the population and the Duma for introducing a US-style food stamp program to help the poor deal with inflation.
In the view of Russian experts, Mariya Bezchastnaya of Svobodnaya pressa says, “such food certificates, an analogue of the American food stamps whjch by the way more than 40 million US citizens receive would help soften the effect of inflation for the most defenseless categories” of Russians (svpressa.ru/economy/article/305838/).
Among those pressing for the introduction of such a system and thus making its adoption more likely are business leaders who argue that “this would be a more effective means of support than any efforts by the authorities to restrain prices which are growing not only in Russia but throughout the entire world.
Levada Center poll results show that a majority of Russians favor this step as well. But Konstantin Orlov of the government’s Finance University says that while it is obvious that food stamps would be helpful, the powers that be fear the image their introduction now, before the elections, would create in the population of a situation out of control.
The government’s problem is “in the first instance psychological,” he says. “The government does not want to openly acknowledge that we have in Russia an enormous number of poor people” and leading officials think that food stamps would cause Russians to conclude that the country is sliding back to where it was in the 1990s.
But the situation now is very different. Then, such cards were given to all because almost everyone was hit by the dislocations of changing systems. Now, the authorities would not have to give as many. But even if 15 million Russians received them, it would cost the treasury 1.8 trillion rubles (25 billion US dollars) a year.
Despite the price tag, Orlov says, food stamps “must become part of a systemic solution of the problem of poverty” in Russia. There is still much to discuss as to its modalities, he acknowledges; but the problem is so severe that the government and the Duma must not delay too much longer. Otherwise, there will be real hunger and protest.