BEIRUT — As the end of import subsidies looms, Lebanese officials have announced that registration will launch next week for a $556 million ration card program to provide some 500,000 vulnerable families with cash payments of an average of $93 per family. Payouts are set to begin in October, but the final funding source still remains unclear.
Here’s what we know:
• The caretaker ministers of economy and social affairs announced today that needy families will be able to apply for inclusion in the program from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. They may apply online at daem.impact.gov.lb or via the Social Affairs Ministry or designated NGOs. A hotline for inquiries was set up at 1747.
• While officials initially said the program could be funded by the World Bank, caretaker Social Affairs Minister Ramzi Musharrafieh later clarified that the money would come from the central bank, with the potential for some or all of it to be reimbursed by the World Bank or via Lebanon’s allocation from the International Monetary Fund’s Special Drawing Rights. World Bank officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
• Eligible households will receive $25 per person per month, with an additional $15 for those over the age of 64, up to a total of $126. The projected average payout per family is $93. The payouts will be made in US dollars or in lira at the market rate.
• Families will be excluded from the program if they earn more than $10,000 a year or have more than $10,000 in fresh dollars or of $50,000 in “Lebanese dollars” in the bank; pay annual rent of more than $3,500; own more than two cars registered after 2018 or manufactured since 2017; employ a domestic worker (unless they have special needs); or are already receiving aid through the National Poverty Targeting Program.
• Caretaker Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said the program would be overseen by an external monitor to be approved by the World Bank.
• A ration card in some form as a replacement for across-the-board subsidies on essential imports has been under discussion since at least late 2020, when Nehme presented a plan to replace broad subsidies on fuel, food and medicine with direct cash transfers to needy families.
• In late June, Parliament approved a $556 million “exceptional credit” law to fund the cards, but without specifying where the funding would come from, how the beneficiaries would be identified, or how the aid would be disbursed.
• In a separate initiative, the World Bank earlier this year approved a $246 million loan to set up a cash assistance program that would provide aid to at least 147,000 of the country’s poorest families. Implementation of the program had been held up by a number of issues, including whether the aid would be paid out in dollars or lira, but as of last month, the government has agreed to pay out in dollars.