Will dole-outs pull families out of poverty?

Published by rudy Date posted on October 29, 2010

THE P21 BILLION budget for the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program or the 4Ps has passed the House of Representatives. This program for conditional cash transfers or CCTs now awaits full Congress approval. It is an ambitious project that has expanded rapidly.

The 4Ps began with only 6,000 households in four pilot municipalities and two cities. Then by the start of 2009, it reached more than 370,000 beneficiary households in 30 provinces. The 2011 draft budget now proposes covering 2.3 million households.

But these conditional cash transfers remain in the storm of controversy. The program of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) still draws flak for encouraging a dole-out mentality.

Indeed, dole-outs will not pull the indigent out of poverty. What will really work for them is to be gainfully employed, to give their children adequate education, and to keep the whole family in good health. Decent well-paid employment is beyond the scope of the DSWD—it involves the whole range of economic management. What the 4Ps handles are the latter two.

Many think that the CCTs follow this line: “Here is some money to help you, but there are strings attached.” No, it is better put as: “Here are the practices that will lift you out of poverty. And here is a cash incentive for you to engage in these practices.”

The following are some of the practices or conditions required by the 4Ps program.

•Children 6-14 years old must attend at least 85 percent of their class days in elementary or high school. Under study is the proposal that children 3-5 years old must attend daycare or preschool also 85 percent of the time.

•Children 0-5 years must get full immunization.

•Children 0-5 years must attend regular growth monitoring sessions.

•Children 6-14 years must take deworming pills twice a year.

•Childhood diseases must be managed at the health centers.

•Mothers must get breastfeeding counseling.

•Mothers must visit the health center at least three times in their pregnancy for pre-natal care.

•Mothers must have their birth assisted by a skilled attendant.

•Mothers must get at least one post-natal care session within six months of their latest delivery.

These are all conditionalities under the 4Ps program. The bottom poor families that comply with them will get P500 each plus P300 for each child (a maximum of 3), for a total of P 1,400 per month.

Won’t the money be wasted on those who are not really bottom poor? That criticism applies to the old anti-poverty programs. There was a time when anyone could buy cheap subsidized rice. Hence the subsidy got wasted on the not-so-poor, the middle class, and even some rich who allegedly used the rice to feed their pets. The old anti-poverty programs also favored the “political poor” or those districts that voted for the incumbent local leaders. In contrast, the 4Ps uses a list of destitute families that came out of a national scientific survey.

Won’t the money be spent on the father’s alcohol and gambling? The transfers are actually handed over to the mothers—who are arguably more concerned with the family’s top priorities.

Won’t the 4Ps encourage the bottom poor to multiply like rabbits? But the program covers a maximum of three children per family.

Won’t the program encourage mendicancy and long-term dependence? But the beneficiaries know that they will be covered only for a maximum of five years. Mendicancy applies rather to the past programs. Benjamin Diokno, a professor of the UP School of Economics, put it well: “Mendicancy is when you ask the poor to line up in provincial capitols or city halls or congressional district offices for free medicine or a kilo of rice. Mendicancy is when you ask the poor to queue in congressional district officers for scholarships to high schools, TESDA training centers, or colleges.”

Won’t the CCTs make the poor lazy and opt not to work? Applying simple math is helpful. Assume 30 days in a month, and 5 members of the family (the national average), and that the entire sum goes to food. The P1,400 per month is equal to around P3.11 per meal per person. It would be strange for anyone to give up his job to make his family live on that small amount.

Why not use the money instead for employing the destitute for building small-scale infrastructure? Emergency employment programs were useful in blunting the impact of the Global Crisis on the Philippines. The bottom poor were given jobs for a few months to upgrade and maintain roads and other projects. However, pulling a family out of poverty for the long term requires protecting the education and health of the children.

As affirmed by the World Bank, CCTs are becoming more and more popular around the globe. They have worked well in Brazil, halving poverty from 33.8 percent of the people in 1993-95 to only 15.35 in 2009. CCTs have cut the number of poor people in Nicaragua by 5.3 percentage points, in Columbia by 2.9 points, in Mexico by 1.3. CCTs have pulled up school enrollment among girls in Pakistan. They have greatly lowered dropout rates in Cambodia. CCTs are part of the world’s best practices in fighting poverty. Such cutting-edge programs must be supported. –Dennis M. Arroyo, Philippine Daily Inquirer

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