2,960 people live in Zimbreni, a small agricultural village outside Moldova's capital city. There are 36 families here, families like Tatiana Leu's, with too many problems and not enough money, who benefit from Moldova's social aid program.
Tatiana's 8-year-old daughter Sylvia has diabetes, and her husband, a farmer, doesn't earn enough to provide for her expensive medical care. Because of the diabetes, Sylvia's eyesight is bad and getting worse. The Leus are proud of the fact that Sylvia is in a regular school, but they worry about her all the same. A couple of months ago at school, she fell down and broke her glasses. To buy a new pair, and to simply get by, the family relies on help from the government.
"The money is important for us for our daughter's treatment," Tatiana Leu explains. "We have to spend a lot on her health, so now when we're told by the doctor we need something, we can afford it."
The Leus get about 625 Moldovan lei a month, about $52 dollars. They spend the extra money on Sylvia, on school clothes, and on the house. They saved up for six months and bought a cow for fresh milk for the kids, Sylvia and her brother, Pavel. "The cow gives us milk and we make butter," Tatiana says. "So I'm sure I have something to feed the kids everyday. I can give them a cup of milk, I have food for them everyday."
Anastasia Staci, Zimbreni's deputy mayor says for the most part, there is support in the village for the social aid program. "Villagers accept the system because they know they might be in the same situation someday," she says. "The money means a lot for the people who find themselves in a difficult situation and who need help getting out of it."
With support from the World Bank, Moldova is overhauling its social aid program, to better target those who need help. Remittances from abroad and profits from farming have shrunk, prompting a rise in rural poverty. Moldova spent generously on social assistance, but the money wasn't always getting to the neediest. The old system was based on categories: the disabled, pensioners, families with children. The new system is based on income.
"The old system wasn't targeting young families who are in need, who don't have jobs, who need temporary help, and who have kids at home," says Valentina Buliga, Moldova's Minister of Labor, Social Protection and Family. She continues, "the former system was inefficient, only fairly small amounts of government aid actually got to the poorest."
Helping the Poorest
In fact, under the old system, only 18 percent of the money allocated to social aid went to the very poorest; now 82 percent does. The rest goes to pensioners and the disabled. About 8 percent of the Moldovan population relies on such help.
"Because I don't have any other income except for this, this year was very dry with no fodder for our animals, so that's why the social aid is so important for us," explains Valentina Iacob. In addition to her two-year-old twin girls, Maya and Yanna, Valentina has three other children. Her husband, who didn't work because of high blood pressure, left her two weeks ago. Right now she's on maternity leave, and she says she is anxious to get back to her work cleaning in a local hospital.
In the next town over, Carbuna, Lilia Chirilenco also struggles to raise five children without a husband. Like Valentina Iacob, she gets the maximum amount of aid from the government, 1,600 lei, or about $133 dollars a month. "Mostly I use it for food, to pay utilities and buy clothes and shoes; also for school supplies. I can't work because I have five kids. And there is no work in the village."
The new system processes applications within 15 days and relies on computer-based logarithms to determine aid based on income. To cut fraud, applicants must re-apply every six months. For the Leu, Iacob and Chirilenco families, and the fifty thousand Moldovan families like theirs, the process is worth it for the benefits it brings. For families in trouble, the food, warmth in winter, and stability that social aid provides are essential.