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Estonia introduces food cards for the poor

These items will allow families to purchase basic necessities, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs

Estonia has introduced food cards for those in need as the country aims to reduce the strain on food banks and social workers. The move was announced by the Estonian Ministry of Social Affairs on Monday. 

According to the ministry, the cards will be distributed starting October 30 and will replace the previous food aid package system. Using these cards, the 28,936 people currently relying on food aid programs will be able to make grocery purchases at Rimi retail stores across the country. 

Under the new system, each eligible family will be issued one card and each person will be given €30 (about $31) per quarter. The money must be used within that time period and any remaining balance will not transfer over into the next quarter. The card can only be used to buy food and basic necessities and isn’t eligible for the purchase of tobacco products or alcohol. 

The food card system was initially announced back in January and received a test run in April across three cities, including the capital of Tallinn. The new system was created as a replacement to a food aid package scheme, under which, food was distributed to the poor through Food Banks which collected unsold groceries in stores and individual donations. These were then transferred to social workers and charitable organizations that distributed the food to those in need.

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However, this system put a strain on the food banks and required significant resources to maintain. It was also inefficient with people often receiving products that they did not want or need. The head of the Ministry of Social Affairs Tea Varakku has stated that the new card system has proven to be an effective solution to the issue and insisted it should be used across Europe. 

The introduction of the new food card system comes as Estonia’s economy has continued to decline with GDP dropping for a sixth consecutive quarter. It decreased by 2.5% in the third quarter of 2023, compared to last year. 

Additionally, the country has been strained by the influx of Ukrainian refugees, most of which continue to be unemployed, according to the Ministry of Economic Affairs. As reported by the Foresight Center think tank, as many as 27,000 Ukrainians are believed to have attempted to enter the Estonian labor market, yet, two thirds of them remain unemployed.


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