BEIRUT — Two and a half months after registration was meant to begin for a pair of cash assistance programs for needy households, officials announced the launch of the registration platform Friday.
However, it will likely be another three months before money will arrive in the pockets of potential beneficiaries, and funding for one of the two programs remains in question.
In a ceremony announcing the start of registration for the World Bank-funded Emergency Social Safety Net (ESSN) program and a separate government ration card, Social Affairs Minister Hector Hajjar said, “These programs are not the solution, but are temporary support aimed at helping the Lebanese citizen to survive and continue until an economic plan is developed with the determination and care of the government.”
The $246 million ESSN loan program was approved by the World Bank in January and by Lebanon’s Parliament in March, but has since been delayed in getting off the ground, in part because of changes to the deal that were made by Parliament without the World Bank’s approval.
Parliament had been set to pass amendments intended to rectify the issue on Oct. 28, but the session adjourned early amid a dispute between different political blocs over the date of the 2022 parliamentary elections. and tThe full legislature has not convened again since.
The so-called “ration card” program, a similar but separate $556 million cash assistance program for needy families proposed by the government, was passed by Parliament in June, with registration for the program and the ESSN program originally planned to begin on Sept. 15. The program, which would provide a maximum of $126 per household per month, was initially envisioned as a way to offset the effects of the end of import subsidies on essential goods like fuel and medicine, but as the subsidies have evaporated, the program has been delayed, in part because there is no secured source of funding for it.
The World Bank's regional director Saroj Kumar Jha told L’Orient Today Wednesday that the government has now submitted a formal request to the Bank to fund the ration card and that “in principle we are ready to consider the request.”
But funding of the ration card will be contingent on getting the ESSN up and running as planned, and on the Lebanese government committing to funding part of the program from its own budget, he said.
“It is really important that the program is implemented in a manner that helps to rebuild the trust” between Lebanese people and public institutions, Jha said.
The registration period for both programs will run through January, with the first payments to beneficiaries via the ESSN program expected to come in March, officials said; however, the payments will be retroactive to January. While the payments made through the ESSN program will be in dollars, those made under the government ration card could be in dollars or in lira at the central bank’s Sayrafa rate.
Registration for both programs will be done online through the Impact platform under the Central Inspection bureau, with the World Food Programme then tasked with verifying the eligibility of the applicants and a yet-to-be appointed third party monitor overseeing its implementation, at least for the World Bank-funded portion of the program.
Those who are found to be eligible would be placed in one of the two programs depending on their characteristics, with the poorest households going to the ESSN program.
During the press conference announcing the registration launch, Prime Minister Najib Mikati attempted to reassure the public that, despite the ongoing political gridlock that has prevented the cabinet from meeting fore more than a month and a half “"government work continues at an increasing and intense pace ... to complete the required financial, economic, service and social files.”
He went on to assert that progress has reached an “advanced stage” on issues including negotiations for an International Monetary Fund bailout and solutions to the country’s electricity crisis, and “immediately after the cabinet sessions resume — soon, God willing — these files will be presented and approved.”