Strengthening Safety Nets for Needy Moldovans

May 22, 2012

The Robus are raising eleven children in the poor and largely rural Orhei District of Moldova. For many years, the family ate mostly what they grew. Children were admonished not to play too hard lest they rip their clothes which would be needed by younger siblings.

That changed after a visit from a social worker—sent to visit the Robus on the recommendation of the village mayor. The social worker added up what the Robus owned, and what Sergiu Robu eked out from sporadic day labor and farming his plot of land, and signed the family up for social assistance. The money the Robus receive every month isn't much, but it makes a big difference.

" It's an important help for us. The money we receive helps us pay for food, school supplies and buy clothes. "

Sergiu Robu

Reaching down to the grassroots to families like the Robus is part of a new social safety net program in Moldova that bases state contributions on beneficiaries' incomes instead of by category of population. That is a monumental change for both the government and citizens who have come to rely—some say rely too much—on the state to keep them afloat.

In a monumental shift of philosophy and budgeting aimed at helping beneficiaries to help themselves, the government is gradually phasing out automatic benefits and phasing in a transparent system that assesses the needs of an individual or family.

This kind of targeted program is part of the country's reform of a bloated social assistance system inherited after the collapse of the Soviet Union. With assistance from the World Bank, through its Health Services and Social Assistance Project, the government aims to help more people by spending more accurately.

"It's a very important reform," said Valentina Buliga, Minister of Social Protection, Family and Child. "It is based on income and the whole concept of it is to help people get into the system and then provide them with the tools to help them get out of the system and find employment."

To ensure efficiency and eliminate fraud in the system, the World Bank has supported the creation of a national database of social assistance programs. Training social workers and buying computers to facilitate a transition from paper to electronic records aims to make the system function more efficiently and cheaply.

The project has supported the passage of legislation and the initial roll-out of the new targeted social assistance system. To date, over 40,000 families in need of state support are covered by the system.

Moldova had no alternative but to reform. The country's economic challenges and social problems, including massive outward labor migration, increased the burden of social assistance programs on the public budget.

Social assistance reform is comprehensively linked with government improvements in the health system. The health insurance law has been revised to provide health insurance to those covered by the social assistance program.

Families like the Robus and others across Moldova are feeling the benefits of the new system. But they are also learning to help themselves by giving their children an education, finding employment, and striving to get out of the system and on their own feet.