Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs, Anthony Godfrey, US Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia, Deyana Kostadinova, UNICEF Representative in Serbia, and Dragan Radovanovic, President of the Red Cross of Serbia distributed debit cards, with a predetermined amount of funds, to families with children from Boljevac whose incomes were significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Study on the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Families With Children in Serbia, conducted by UNICEF in April 2020, has shown that the crisis significantly affected the income of households with children, and in almost 50% of these households, there was a decline in income. In addition, 1 in 4 households with children had unplanned expenses, while the most common categories of unplanned expenses were hygiene and food items. In almost 40% of households, the amount for unplanned expenses was higher than a quarter of the monthly household income.
“One of the priorities of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs is the care of all citizens, and especially those who need help the most. This did not change even during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has greatly affected the whole world. The Government of the Republic of Serbia, even in the conditions of a pandemic, continuously took care of the needs of all citizens, especially those most vulnerable. The financial aspect of all social benefits, within the purview of the Ministry of Labour, Veterans and Social Affairs, for the entire duration of the pandemic, as well as at present – were fulfilled according to planned dynamics, without any reductions or restrictions,” said Prof. Dr. Darija Kisic Tepavcevic, Minister of Labour, Employment, Veteran and Social Affairs.
The humanitarian cash benefit programme is being implemented in Southern and Eastern Serbia by UNICEF and the Red Cross of Serbia thanks to the financial support provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in the amount of $US 600,000.
“For all of the families who will be receiving these cards, I want you to know that we understand your struggles and hope these cards will help you… I truly believe that together — we will get through this and come out stronger,” said Anthony Godfrey, US Ambassador to the Republic of Serbia.
Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, UNICEF and its partners and donors have been supporting the Government of the Republic of Serbia to respond to the pandemic through risk communication and community engagement, procurement of protective equipment for medical workers and ventilators, providing hygiene and learning and play packages for the most vulnerable families, and by monitoring the socio-economic impact of this health crisis on families with children.
“Cash benefits for families with children are an extremely important type of support for those most vulnerable in times of crises. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 7% of people in Serbia lived in absolute poverty, and we know that financial shocks mostly affect children from the poorest families. The goal of the humanitarian cash programme, which we are implementing in Southern and Eastern Serbia together with the Red Cross and with the financial support of USAID, is to help vulnerable families satisfy their material needs and enable children to have a more fulfilled childhood during the pandemic,” said Deyana Kostadinova, UNICEF Representative in Serbia.
Fostering partnerships is crucial to meeting increased needs of communities and addressing its impacts on children and families. The President of the Red Cross of Serbia, Prof. Dr. Dragan Radovanovic, thanked UNICEF and USAID, as well as other donors for their exceptional cooperation, and especially for the assistance provided to the most vulnerable households within the Mitigating the Effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Socio-Economic Status of Children and Their Families project.
“Since the beginning of the epidemic caused by the COVID-19 virus, the Red Cross of Serbia has been extremely active in local communities, providing assistance to those who need it the most. With this kind of help, we are mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis on the socio-economic status of children and their families, who are most vulnerable, and thus strengthening faith in solidarity that traditionally exists in our society. The Red Cross of Serbia continues to respond to the challenges of the current health situation in a proactive manner with partners and donors, supporting other vulnerable groups as well through the daily engagement of a large number of Red Cross volunteers, all for the benefit of Serbian citizens,” said Prof. Dr. Dragan Radovanovic.
Families selected for this programme will be awarded a predetermined amount of funds that corresponds to the size of the family. The money is provided to families, in cooperation with the Komercijalna banka, via a debit card with a predetermined amount on it. Debit cards allow maximum flexibility in spending, as well as the inclusion of families in payment mechanisms they may not have had the chance to use before, but which are safer to use, especially during a health crisis.