Riigkogu passes legislation hiking child benefits, reforming care system

The Riigikogu building,  Toompea Castle, Tallinn..
The Riigikogu building, Toompea Castle, Tallinn.. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Two pieces of legislation passed at the Riigikogu Wednesday, which both relate to social care.

Amendments to the Social Welfare Act and the Income Tax Act, will both increase funding for nursing homes, from July next year, and establish specific standards such institutions.

Meanwhile the Family Benefits Act will hike allowances to families with children, both those with one or two children, and larger families with three to six, or more, offspring.

Family Benefits Act

The Family Benefits Act passed with 76 votes in favor at the 101-seat chamber Wednesday. Ninety MPs were present, and one, Siim Kiisler (independent), voted against.

The law will from January 1, 2023 boost the allowance for the first and second child will increase from €60 (and for a child of a single parent from €19.18) X to €80 per month. 

The allowance for a family with children rises from €300 to €650 for three to six children, and from €400 to €850 per month for families with seven or more children.

For families whose allowance payments had been halted due to children under the age of 19 not studying, the right to family allowances will be reinstated and the payments will be made retroactively by the Social Insurance Board (SKA) by the end of March next year, at the latest.

Families themselves do not need to submit an application or documents to take advantage of this, ERR reports.

From May 1, 2024, the allowance for families with children will be indexed with the pension index.

The requirement which had been in place wherby support for children aged 16-19 was contingent on their continuing to study, has been removed.

This, it is argued, will enable support to be received by families where a child does not continue studying for mitigating reasons, for instance if they have special needs. 

he rule that if a 19-year-old is studying in the current academic year, the allowance will continue to be paid until either their graduation or the end of the academic year, whichever comes first, remains in place.

This, it is argued, encourages study.

Under the terms of the new legislation, in the event of a child under the age of three passing away, both parents will revive one month's subsequent parental allowance.

The law also amends alimony calculation principles. Allowances to families with children are taken into account to the total of 50 percent, when calculating this minimum alimony.

Care reform: Social Welfare Act and the Income Tax Act

Amendments to the Social Welfare Act and the Income Tax Act, which also passed their Riigikogu vote Wednesday, improve the availability of services that support living at home. 

People receiving a wage lower than the average old-age pension will be partly compensated for by local government, in respect of their accommodation and catering.

Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) said these changes will render services aimed at helping the elderly more accessible, and will also increase the quality of the service.

She said: "The money allocated to municipalities must be utilized to provide home care, in addition to financing nursing home places. Based on the indivudual, home services should get first preference."

Minister of Health and Labor Peep Peterson (SDE) said from July 1 of next year, said the legislation will make savings of several thousand euros per year for every family which looks after a dependent.

Peterson said: "Pursuant to the last important change introduced in the draft in the fall, people with a lower-than-average pension, who make up a quarter of all pensioners, including those on the state pension only, and those who have been working in a low-wage job due to unavoidable circumstances, will also be able to receive a place in a nursing home, where necessary."

Forecasts state that in 2023 the average fee for a nursing home place for a person with a high level of care need will stand at €1,375 per month, part of which, i.e. the costs of the care staff, will be paid by the local government going forward.

The new legislation will result in the state investing €40 million in the forthcoming year, to improve the availability and quality of general care services.

In 2024, the state budget will provide local governments with nearly €57 million, while by 2026, according to forecasts, this funding is set to rise to €62 million.

Whereas last year there were an average of 18 clients per care worker, in the future this figure should fall to 12, or to nine in the case of high care needs, under the new legislation.

Local governments have the opportunity to develop and offer their residents, in addition to 24-hour general care, home services, when organizing long-term care, under the terms of the new law.

This provides the person the opportunity to continue living in their own home, and prevent or postpone the worsening of the need for care, it is argued.

The Riigikogu breaks up for Christmas next week and, with a general election also looming, all the key legislation which needs to be passed will indeed pass, this week.

Disagreements over family and child support reforms ostensibly led to the breakup of the Reform/Center coalition in early June this year.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Barbara Oja

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