Friday, April 17, 2009

New 'open access' journal on poverty and public policy

A new journal that examines poverty and public policy hopes to go the 'open access' route to get the information to as many people as possible. The Poverty and Public Policy Journal has several articles up now for anyone to read. You just need to fill out a short form with your name and where you are from.

One article that caught our eye was an examination of an anti-poverty program in Chile. Writer Silvia Borzutzky introduces us to the Chile Solidario program.

Chile Solidario, designed in 2002, is Chile’s most important anti-poverty program and it is coordinated by the Minister of Planning.8 The program’s aim is to incorporate indigent families into the State’s Social Protection Network which, in turn, will facilitate access to benefits and services that for the most part are already provided by the state, but that the very poor do not know how to access.

Thus, its objective is to coordinate monetary benefits, subsidies, services and
programs that are already available, and to facilitate access to those programs. In
the words of one analyst, “The innovative approach involves a two-pronged
strategy, working on both the demand and the supply side of public services.”9 On
the demand side, the program allows the indigent to become aware of the
existence of benefits and services. On the supply side, the program requires
coordination of services at the municipal level since it guarantees preferential
access to the services provided by the municipality. Here it is important to note
that the program is grounded in each municipality through a Family Intervention
Unit, headed by a municipal employee who acts as a case worker.

Chile Solidario works with the family, and specifically with
women/mothers, providing psychosocial support, subsidies, and mechanisms to
access existing services. The program is operating in 332 municipalities, and by
the end of 2005 it incorporated 225,000 families.10 It is important to note that the
program largely ignores husbands and fathers. Chile Solidario is considered to
have fulfilled its mission when the family is able to overcome its indigence and
can sustain a set of minimum pre-established conditions. The right to participate
in the Chile Solidario program is determined through a poverty score, which in
turn is a summary index of unsatisfied basic needs. The score is posted in a card
(CAS ficha) that serves as a means to identify program recipients. Households are
invited to participate on the basis of their score, starting with the poorest

The families incorporated into the program receive a set of small subsidies,
some training, and the provision of identity cards to families that had never had
one. It facilitates registration in the local clinics so families can obtain primary
care in their respective neighborhood. The program also makes sure that children
are sent to school, facilitates access to education for illiterate adults, and it
attempts to reduce intra-family violence which appears to be a chronic problem
among indigent families in Chile. The program also aims at facilitating
employment opportunities, the right to get a welfare pension, and to improved
housing conditions.

Entrance into the program is facilitated through the so called Puente or
“bridge program” that actually opens the door into the benefits provided by Chile
Solidario, or “builds a bridge between them [the indigents] and their rights in
order to defeat the condition of extreme poverty.”12 It is interesting to note that
the Puente Program places emphasis on the provision of psychological support to
the families. In practice, the program is implemented by “the case worker” who is
in charge of visiting the family on a regular basis, providing support, and dealing
with both the emotional and the economic problems of the family. This person,who often is a recent college graduate with some background either in health,
education, or the social sciences, is expected to develop a personal relationship
with the mother and to work with her during the life of the program. Thus, the
mother is both the central economic, social, and psychological actor in the project
since she sustains the relationship with the case worker, and receives the family
protection subsidy. She should attempt to improve intra-family relations, and is in
charge of taking the children to school and to the local health clinic.

It is important to note that Chile Solidario provides an array of very small
cash benefits, including a Solidario benefit (which ranges from about US$ 19.5
the first semester to US$ 6 the fourth semester),13 a family subsidy to children
under 18 years of age, an old age assistance and/or invalidity pension, and a
subsidy that pays the family’s water bill. Moreover, the cash benefits provided by
Chile Solidario are just part of a larger set of small cash transfers provided by the
government which also include a family subsidy given to pregnant women, to
parents of children between 6-18 years of age, and to parents of persons with
physical disabilities. To be eligible the parents must take the children for regular
medical check-ups, and must send children to school. The benefit amounts to
about US$8 per month. There is also an unemployment benefit that fluctuates
between approximately $20-30, and is conditioned upon having been employed
for at least 52 weeks during the previous two years. Assistance pensions are given
to those over 65 and to physically and mentally-disabled adults regardless of age.
The pension amounts to about $95 per month and it also includes free medical
care. Households also receive a Water and Sewage subsidy which fluctuates
between $4-$7 monthly, and the solidarity subsidy which is received by 1.1
percent of all households.14 In brief, if all the subsidies are added a poor family in Chile receives on average about $40 monthly in cash transfers,15 and up to about
$275 through the life of the program, which equals 2 percent of the median
income of the participating households.

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