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Aswesuma to up coverage of poor by 22%, make first payment in July

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Govt urged to distribute welfare benefits via regulated banks:
Rohan Samarajiva of LIRNEasia handing over a memento to B Wijayaratne Chairman Welfare Benefits Board. Picture by Sudath Malaweera
Rohan Samarajiva of LIRNEasia handing over a memento to B Wijayaratne Chairman Welfare Benefits Board. Picture by Sudath Malaweera

Aswesuma will increase coverage of the poor by 22%, and the first payment will be made in July, B Wijayaratne, Chairman Welfare Benefits Board (WBB) said participating in the Social Safety Nets and the State of Poverty in Sri Lanka panel discussion held in Colombo on Wednesday.

He said even though the findings reveal that the Aswesuma covered only 53% of the poor in the program when compared with Samurdhi which was 31% there was nearly 22% increase at the time of starting the process and that means Aswesuma can improve the coverage and target.

“By July we anticipate making the first payment and after that we will open up for those left behind to apply for the program.” He said applicants will be able to apply online filling the digital form and after that the eligible persons will be included in the main register.

Wijayaratne said in the future almost all welfare benefit payment schemes will be brought under the umbrella of the WBB and Aswesuma will target the most vulnerable.

However LIRNEasia Research indicates that all those in need of benefits may not have registered for the program. The study also revealed that misinformation on eligibility criteria prevented some from registering for the program and some individuals who have been unsuccessful in previous attempts to register for benefits (over the years) did not want to go through the process of applying for the benefits, as they wee of the view that their efforts would be in vain.

Isuru Samaratunga of LIRNEasia opined, “The Aswesuma program is a step in the right direction in reforming our social safety nets. The checks and balances built into the system allows the government to prioritize those in need of support. This is necessary when the government has limited fiscal space.

However, we understand that some individuals who are among the most vulnerable have not registered for the program. The government should reopen the program for registration, making special efforts to incentivize officials to spread awareness beyond their existing circles,curbing misinformation on the program and rebuilding trust in the system.”

It was also urged to distribute welfare benefits via regulated banks highlighting that Samurdhi beneficiaries spend on average 4 hours each month collecting their monthly benefits. Some allocated up to 12 hours for this activity. Further, the government must also explore low-tech options such as SMS-based registration, as 92 % of poor households own a mobile phone. This is the most common method of applying for benefits in South Africa.

The study found that 4 million have fallen into poverty since 2019 and 60% out of the 1.7 million Samurdhi social welfare beneficiaries cannot be identified as poor.

According to the organisation, at least 7 million Sri Lankans are now living in poverty and the coverage of social safety nets was low across all programs including the Samurdhi benefit. LIRNEasia revealed that only 31% of the 10% of the poorest households receive Samurdhi cash transfers while 4% of the richest 10% of households also receive financial aid from the State.

Friday, June 9, 2023 – 01:00

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