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Thursday, 23 December 2021

New ration card eligibility standards coming?

Newly married individuals “shouldn’t” be able to receive subsidy ration cards, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi said in televised remarks yesterday (watch, runtime 5:18). According to the president, if a couple that’s about to get married or recently got hitched needs subsidies to get by, they shouldn’t be getting married in the first place since they’re not able to meet the financial responsibilities that come with marriage. This issue becomes more pronounced when couples on the welfare rolls start having children and need to add them to the subsidy system too, El Sisi said.

Two-person maximum per card? The president suggested that already-issued cards can be used for a maximum of two people, but that this limit won’t be applied to new cards. Currently, a maximum of four people are allowed per card — typically, a husband and wife and two children.

No changes on the ground yet: El Sisi’s remarks are about a “mentality” that the community needs to adopt and isn’t an announcement of a new decision, Supply Minister Ali El Moselhy later told reporters (watch, runtime: 2:51). The steps that the government will need to take to that end “will be taken under study” before coming up with a proposal, El Moselhy said.

What we don’t know: First and foremost, there’s no confirmation on whether the government will actually enact a decision changing up the eligibility standards for ration cards. If this decision is implemented, it’s also unclear whether the line will be drawn at adding newborns or if newlyweds won’t be allowed to get subsidy cards. And, critically, it is entirely unclear what would happen — if the government were to implement this policy change — in a scenario where somebody who already had a subsidy card gets married. Neither the president nor El Moselhy gave any indicators on whether newlyweds could have their subsidy cards revoked, aside from being barred from getting a new card issued.

Background: Subsidy reforms have been a hallmark of El Sisi’s presidency. The overhaul of the commodity subsidy system kicked off in 2017, starting with bread subsidies, the so-called “bread points” system, and ending subsidies on flour used for producing subsidized bread. In later stages of the subsidy reform program, the Supply Ministry has worked to scrub its roster of welfare cheats. Last year, the ministry gave the boot to some 10 mn people alleged to have been cheating the welfare system, bringing the number of subsidy recipients down to 70 mn and reducing annual welfare spending by about EGP 5 bn. The forms also entailed changing the eligibility requirements for receiving subsidies, including a number of ancillary rules stipulated in 2018 like owning a “modern car,” spending over EGP 500 per month on phone bills and paying for more than one mobile phone line, that bar individuals from receiving subsidies. The government decided earlier this year to raise the earnings cap on subsidy recipients to EGP 2.4k per month, up from EGP 1.5k per month previously.

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