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News 03 Feb 12

Romania Chops Welfare Benefits for Thousands

The government has axed welfare payments to around 10 per cent of recipients in an effort to get the ballooning welfare bill under control.

Marian Chiriac
Bucharest

Over 73,000 Romanians had their social assistance benefits cut starting from this month because they failed to pay local taxes, according to the Labour Ministry.

Around 7.9 million people in the country of 19 million receive some sort of benefits from the state, including child care, family support and the minimum guaranteed income payments.

There are only 5.2 million active employees in Romania.

“We had no other solution,” Labour Minister Sulfina Barbu said on Thursday. “The decision to cut benefits is a fair act, aimed at cutting fraud.”

Barbu added that those who had their benefits cut have until June to pay their local taxes on houses and cars. If they pay up, the entire sum lost over the suspended months will be refunded to them.

If they fail to pay up within five months, their files will be suspended and they must then re-apply for benefits, submitting all the documents again.

Romania recently adopted a new law on social benefits, which imposes tougher conditions on potential claimants.

People who possess pricey jewels, precious metals of over 100 grams, art objects, porcelain and crystal objects or furs will no longer be able to claim any assistance. Benefit recipients must also be taxpayers.

The new law was recently criticized by Florin Cioaba, self-proclaimed King of the Roma (Gypsies), as tantamount to an attack on his community, many of whom are not taxpayers.

“The draconian new rules will simply make the poor get poorer, including many people of Roma origin”, Cioaba said on Wednesday.

“It is wrong that a poor person should not receive benefits just because he has a nine-year-old motor car or over 25 chickens, which help him survive”, he added.

The number of people claiming benefits has almost doubled in the last decade, raising further suspicions of widespread benefit fraud.

Local media often report cases of mayors of villages or small towns offering benefits to poor people, or even to people on good incomes, in exchange for votes.

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