State food aid is currently only available to individuals who are receive or have applied for subsistence benefits during for specific months of the year. The Chancellor of Justice wants to change this.
Currently, food aid is only distributed to those who have received or applied for subsistence benefits or local government aid in January, February, August or September. This food aid generally does not extend to individuals who have received or applied for the same exact aid during the remaining eight months of the year.
Häli Tarum, head of the Social Welfare Department of the Ministry of Social Affairs, said that the EU's food aid budget for member states is limited, due to which it must be taken into consideration how many times per year it is possible to grant such additional aid to local governments and the state.
"January and February are periods when families' expenses may be higher due to heating costs," Tarum explained. "Same thing in August and September, when children are heading back to school. These are the months when there are the most people in need across Estonia."
Seasonal work, she added, generally means fewer people need during the summer months.
According to Chancellor of Justice adviser Anneli Kivitoa, this basis for selecting months is not justified.
"Unfortunately, the conditions for granting aid do not provide clear, unambiguous and objective criteria according to which people who receive support in January, February, August or September specifically have the right to aid," Kivitoa said. "The Chancellor of Justice found no reason for justifying unequal treatment."
Other aid increases in winter months too
Raul Kivi, a senior expert at the Pärnu Social Welfare Board, likewise agrees that the disbursement of food aid along these lines is unjustified.
"First of all, in January and February, when heating costs are higher, these families also receive more subsistence benefits," Kivi said. "And local governments as a rule have helped cover expenses that crop up in connection with school in August and September. Treating this period as though it were more difficult than usual isn't right either. It's clear that what's behind this is the fact that organizing the monthly distribution of food aid would be so much more difficult and expensive that they have chosen to go the easier route."
Under current rules, nearly 100 families in Pärnu end up going without food aid.
Whether this qualifies as unconstitutional will be decided within the Ministry of Social Affairs in September, Tarum said. She noted, however, that people have to understand that food aid is considered supplementary aid.
"EU foo aid, which the Ministry of Social affairs distributes in local governments in cooperation with the Food Bank, can be regarded as supplementary aid to local governments as well as to people," the ministry official said. "In reality, arranging for food aid is legally the responsibility of the local government."
Kivi, meanwhile, said that local governments do also support their residents with food aid, but that does not justify the state distributing aid on unequal terms.
He offered a solution of his own as well: "Right when someone applies for benefits, they are forwarded info regarding potential food aid, and as soon as the decision is made regarding their benefits, information is forwarded to distributors of the food aid, where the individual can turn to receive their aid."
Editor: Aili Vahtla