The Ministry of Social Affairs and the Rimi chain of supermarkets are testing out a novel food cards systems in Harju and Rapla counties to replace the current system of distributing food aid. The government will transfer €30 per aid recipient to the card quarterly.
The number of food aid recipients grew by leaps and bounds last year. Tea Varrak, head of social resilience with the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that while so far the ministry and the Estonian Food Bank have given people food aid four times a year, mostly in the form of dry goods, tins and other slow-to-perish goods, the new system will allow people to choose what to buy.
Among other benefits, the food cards system helps bring down the workload of local government social workers and Food Bank employees.
€30 per person will be transferred to the food card quarterly. A single card per family will be issued. The support sum needs to be used inside three months and will not be transferred to the next period. The food card can only be used to buy food and basic commodities.
Varrak added that the card cannot be used to buy alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets.
The ministry will get an overview from retail partners of what the cards were used to buy, and certain goods can be blacklisted, for example, if statistics suggest people use it to buy a lot of dog food.
"The card is meant for food and basic commodities," Varrak emphasized, adding that local government social workers will initially advise people in terms of what they should buy with the card.
She said that it might happen that people will initially use the money to buy potato chips when the first project round opens April 24-28. This is where local government counsellors come in. "We can also limit the card for people who use it to buy things that are perhaps not the best way to get a full belly," Varrak remarked.
She said that the food cards system will reach other areas later this year. A tender has been declared for other counties where the ministry expects retail chains to participate.
The list of people who qualify for food aid is based on subsistence benefit and local government support recipients. To qualify, a person must turn to their local government social worker, have their economic situation evaluated. They will then be registered as a food aid recipient and the card delivered via mail or the social worker.
In the first quarter of 2023, physical food aid reached 32,196 people, almost half of whom were Harju or Rapla county residents. Based on this, the food card system would have cost €965,880 nationwide in the first quarter.
Editor: Mirjam Mäekivi, Marcus Turovski