Spain is about to change its food aid model, which depends on European funding. Starting in May, no one will receive baskets of products through social entities. The money is deposited directly into a card or redeemable voucher, where people can shop in supermarkets according to their needs.
Spain, the country in Europe with the highest rate of child poverty
However, the new system designed to overcome welfare and promote autonomy had already created some problems before it began. The delay in the agreement with the autonomous communities—that is, those who have the powers of social services—forced the government to approve a royal decree in which the Ministry of Social Rights, Consumption, and Agenda 2030 is in charge of urgent management between May and December to avoid shortages, according to ministerial sources.
Management is indirect. The government of the Spanish Red Cross has given it a subsidy in the amount of 100.2 million euros (95.5 million for the cost of food and the remaining 4.7 million for the “technical costs of implementing the program”) without opening a competition with other entities.
Food banks, until now responsible for delivering food, expect the reform to leave users indifferent. Among other reasons, they justify it because the criteria for accessing aid have changed: only families with dependent minor children with an income of less than 40% will usually be the beneficiaries of the cards. There are about 70,000 families, according to government calculations.
Last time, 1.3 million people were helped by the same fund, according to data provided by the executive in questions from elDiario.es. “It is not possible to identify whether they are attended in time or periodically, so it is not possible to estimate the real impact of the program or compare the data of the almost 70,000 families expected to be reached this year by the new program,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Social Rights. The decision of the system and the group where the aid should be focused is made with the agreement of the autonomous communities, as assured by the sources of the minister.
According to the Royal Decree approved this Tuesday, the state—in this case, the Red Cross through the concession—will only temporarily manage the management of the cards, that is, their creation and implementation through an agreement. with supermarkets. But the list of beneficiaries remains in the hands of the communities, which must send that information to the Ministry of Social Rights. The money entered in the cards will be proportional to the number of people in the family unit (130 for two, 160 for three, 190 for four, and 220 if the family has five or more members).
The last centralized purchase of food with the European Fund to Aid the Most Deprived People (FEAD) took place in October 2023. With this pantry, it was only able to supply users until April, as confirmed by sources within the government, who explained that the acquisition of products is done twice a year. Once purchased, it is distributed to families through two entities that can, in turn, work with small ones: the Spanish Federation of Food Banks (Fesbal) and the Red Cross.
110 million euros per year for 70,000 families
Starting this year, the new card system is part of the European Social Fund Plus program for basic material assistance with a budget of 619.3 million euros for the period 2021–2027—565 million directly from Europe and 10% of co-financing by communities. In other words, they did not change the money contributed by the European Union (110 million euros per year), but they changed the way it is distributed.
Fesbal considers that the new system “will leave groups indifferent.” He gave, as an example, people with very low pensions or the homeless. The federation also defended that “even if it seems that the delivery of meals is shocking, users go to a site where they can be given additional steps of information and can contact people in the same situation.”
“The decision about the cards is optional for the Spanish State; in fact, most major countries continue to distribute food,” they said. Another criticism has to do with cost: with centralized purchasing as it was done before, the final price of each product is lower.
The Ministry of Social Rights says that the aid from the European Fund is “another” of those available in Spain for food, and that depends directly on the regional and municipal governments. And they remember that the decision to change the system is the result of a unanimous agreement of the Interterritorial Council of Social Rights, where all the autonomous communities are represented, in the summer of 2021.
The target population of this aid (families with minor children) was also agreed upon by regional governments as a measure aimed at alleviating the high number of children in poverty. Spain is the European country with the highest rate, according to the latest data from Unicef.
Now, the government must sign an agreement with supermarkets where the cards can be used, which can be exchanged for food and basic hygiene products within a limited list. The cashiers of the establishments will be in charge of informing the users which products have been spent or not, if something is purchased that is not on the list. The cards can be recharged for a maximum of three months at a time and are valid for one year.
The wallet card system is already available in some towns and communities. The Junta de Andalucía has launched a system managed by the Red Cross with a maximum of 250 euros per month. It is also in the City Council of Barcelona and Madrid. It is a system with a certain complexity of management, something that ended up delaying the agreement of the autonomous communities and leading to emergency management. With the decision, the government says they want to guarantee that the cards will be on time and that the communities will have more time to implement their own systems. All of these must be in place by January 1, 2025.