Government approves €46-million COVID-19 support for regions

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Stenbock House, seat of the Estonian government. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

The government has approved €46-million in local support, which puts a particular emphasis on Ida-Viru County.

The cabinet approved the move at its regular Thursday sitting and endorsed the terms and conditions of the aid, which comes as part of the supplementary budget passed last month in response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the second of its kind since the virus arrived over a year ago.

Minister of Public Administration Jaak Aab (Center) said that €16 million will be disbursed under the support fund based on the number of residents in each locality, though in Ida-Viru county, one of the worst-hit regions by COVID-19 numbers and also facing decline in its main staple industry, oil shale mining, refining and burning, a multiplier of 1.5 will be applied, BNS reports.

Jaak Aab said: "This money will enable cities and municipalities to make necessary investments at their own discretion – such as improve ventilation systems, build and reconstruction buildings, demolish old buildings, obtain servers corresponding to IT security requirements."

Ida-Viru County has traditionally been a bedrock region of Center Party support, but this has been in decline since at least the March 2019 general election. While during the general election and the European elections which followed in May that year saw a generally very low voter turnout – i.e. disenfranchised former Center voters did not transfer their support to another party, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) has more recently mopped up some of that support, mainly by focusing on social issues. The next elections are in October this year, to local municipalities.

The support earmarks one million euros aimed at boosting internet speeds and reliability, mostly the result of schools having to go on distance learning, which naturally requires an available, fully-functioning computer and adequate internet link, something which may be taken for granted in more well-heeled parts of the country such as the Tallinn metropolitan area but in reality may not always be available in areas like Ida-Viru.

This aid will be doled out to municipalities in proportion to numbers of school-age residents, while it is up to local government to distribute the monies themselves.

The first components of aid, which will also include investment support totaling €30 million aimed at boosting local economies and providing jobs, are to start arriving late on this month, BNS reports, also the date when the supplementary budget, which passed its first Riigikogu reading on March 21, comes into effect.

The entire supplementary budget is valued at €461 million.

The investment support requires a minimum project size of €30,000 (reduced to €10,000 on Estonia's smaller islands), while it will be distributed at a rate of €50,000 per municipality, plus a sum related to that municipality's population.

The investment support will be capped in due course after the aid has already started to come into effect.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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