The Sejm is working on changes to the Family 500 plus program. The benefit is to be handled by the Social Insurance Institution, and not by local governments as before. In addition, the bill provides only for electronic submission of applications for 500 plus and payment only to a bank account. Law and Justice MPs argue that the purpose of transferring the program operation to ZUS is optimization, and the savings can be transferred to further programs for families. The opposition is of the opposite opinion, which believes that the new regulations will hit the most needy families, digitally excluded people and local governments. Amendments to the bill were tabled.
On Thursday, the Sejm hosted the second reading of the government’s draft amendment to the Act on State Aid in Raising Children. This project provides that the service of the Family 500 plus program will be handled by the Social Insurance Institution, and not – as at present – by local governments. Applications for the benefit will be submitted only online, and the money will only be paid without cash to the bank account number indicated by the applicant.
The new regulations are to enter into force on January 1, 2022.
In connection with the submission of amendments in the second reading, the draft was referred for reconsideration by the Social Policy and Family Committee.
Family 500 plus – changes, corrections
Law and Justice MP Robert Warwas said that the planned changes would not introduce any changes to the family rights and their availability to the 500 plus benefit. – The purpose of the changes is only to optimize the process of handling benefits by using more and more common tools, such as IT systems, and to put emphasis on non-cash forms of child benefit payment, as well as to strive to reduce the costs associated with granting and transferring funds to eligible persons by relying on the Insurance Company Social – explained Warwas.
The PiS MP pointed out that the savings obtained in this way could be transferred to subsequent family support programs, such as the Family Care Capital.
MP Iwona Maria Kozłowska said that the club of the Civic Coalition was against transferring the service of the Family 500 plus program to the Social Insurance Institution. Kozłowska assessed that the situation of ZUS is terrible, employees are poorly paid, overburdened with work, and the ZUS IT system is inefficient. She emphasized that local governments have so far performed their role in the implementation of the Family 500 plus program without any problems.
– After all, local governments have recruited and trained thousands of people who handle this program all over the country. It was the communes that incurred huge organizational and implementation costs related to its implementation. Taking the program away from communes will reduce their debt capacity, and this will reduce the possibility of implementing investment plans. The funds they still receive as part of this task are a very important element of their budget – she said.
The KO deputy pointed out that currently the claims for the benefit are verified by qualified social workers who are more aware of the situation of individual families. She also pointed out that over a dozen percent of families submitted applications for 500 plus in paper form, which is no longer available. Kozłowska pointed out that some of the applicants are digitally excluded and communicative people.
Kozłowska informed that the KO club proposes three amendments to the draft. The first of them provides that the service will continue to be handled by local governments, the second – that applications can still be submitted both in electronic and paper form, and the third amendment stipulates that the act would enter into force in 2023.
500 plus in ZUS
Magdalena Biejat from Lewica estimated that the transfer of 500 plus to ZUS from January 1, 2022 “will not improve too much”. As she indicated, the changes were not consulted with the employees of the Department. According to the deputy, the introduction of such a solution will cause chaos and cause negative social and economic effects.
She pointed out that the project does not provide for additional financing for ZUS, neither for increasing salaries nor for increasing employment. She recalled that ZUS is already in a collective dispute with employees. It announced the submission of amendments which would extend the vacatio legis by one year and remove the exclusion of the Family 500 plus program from the public procurement law.
Bożena Żelazowska from the Polish Coalition assessed that the provisions proposed in the draft were not good. The changes – as she said – will burden ZUS employees even more. According to Żelazowska, the funds from the program, as before, should be at the disposal of local governments that know the situation of families and can verify whether the amount will be used for the needs of the child. – From the perspective of the distant ZUS, it will not be possible – she emphasized. The deputy stated that the KP-PSL club would vote in favor of the law provided that the amendments were taken into account.
Amendments to the act were also submitted by Joanna Mucha from Poland 2050, who indicated that local governments had good practice in the implementation of this task. She assessed that the project is bad for both local governments and beneficiaries. – Who is it good for? For the minister? – asked the deputy. Mucha explained that one of the amendments she tabled assumed the deletion of Art. 16, which says that “it is possible to arrange an IT system without a tender” that supports the program. The second amendment – as announced – concerns the restoration of the cash form of payment of the benefit.
In turn, Agnieszka Ścigaj (Polskie Sprawy) stated that the project “has definitely more minuses than pluses”. She assessed that the transfer of 500 plus to ZUS is doubtful in the context of optimizing service costs. She also pointed out that communes have a system for verifying the social situation of families. – ZUS will be looking and will be wondering how this money is spent? Not. A ZUS employee will simply issue a decision – she pointed out. The deputy announced that the relevant amendments would be tabled.
Confederation MP Dobromir Sośnierz judged that the program did not have any pro-demographic effects and was ineffective as a whole. – 500 plus is de facto alimony for other people’s children and buying voters with their own money – he said.
Family 500 plus – cost
Deputy Minister of Family and Social Policy, Barbara Socha, responding to the MPs’ doubts, recalled that the Family 500 plus benefit is universal and universal. She added that the current costs of servicing the benefit are considerable. She indicated that savings in connection with the introduction of changes exceeded PLN 3 billion in the perspective of a decade. – This is a significant amount for us and we believe that it is worth changing the way of operationalization of this benefit without loss for the beneficiaries – she explained.
Socha noted that the form of payment of benefits is changing, which was “worked” during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the process of digitization of services accelerated. – We checked how it works with a few different examples. Tourist voucher, solidarity allowance, the 300 plus program is being implemented today. There were no technical or organizational problems in any of these cases, noted the deputy head of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy.
Referring to the words of MP Sośnierz about “alimony for other people’s children”, the deputy head of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy said that this statement showed “lack of basic economic knowledge”. – Today we have such a situation in the world that there is a problem with the replacement of generations, and this means that the lack of next generations will affect us as the whole society – said Socha. She added that “even putting aside huge funds for retirement and taking care of ourselves does not secure us for the future.”
– For example, in order to spend these funds, even on basic services, people are needed who will provide these services and produce goods – she added. She emphasized that the family transfer program is universal all over the world and Poland is not the only country that has implemented such a solution.
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