Belarus's social safety net, largely a continuation of what existed in the former Soviet Union, is based on a guarantee of employment and a number of allowances and benefits for particular needs. Benefits were indexed to inflation in January 1991 (benefits are adjusted at the same rate as the minimum wage), and the system was expanded in 1991-92, partly to alleviate the social costs of switching to a market economy. The safety net had been a growing concern to the government because in the early 1990s it accounted for a large share of general government expenditures. Benefits were funded either directly by the budget or by two major social funds.
The government's greatest social expenditures are for pensions. The relatively low retirement age (fifty-five for women and sixty for men) and the country's demographic structure account for the large number of pensioners. In January 1992, the minimum pension was raised to 350 rubles (for the value of the Belarusian ruble per month, the same as the minimum wage. The Pension Law of January 1993 based pensions on income earned at the time of retirement and on length of employment; the pensions of those who did not contribute to the Pension Fund during their years of employment are linked to the minimum wage. In January 1994, Belarus had nearly 2 million oldage pensioners and 600,000 persons receiving other types of pensions.
Legislation passed in late 1992 permits families to receive allowances for children above age three only if they meet certain eligibility requirements based on income. Previously, families with children up to sixteen years of age (eighteen years of age for those in secondary schools) had automatically received allowances based on the minimum wage. The program has been hampered by problems in testing for eligibility, however, because of difficulties in assessing income and because of tax evasion by the self-employed.
Unemployment compensation is provided for six months. Benefits are related to earnings for those who work for more than a year and also work continuously for the twelve weeks before separation. For those who work less than a year, benefits are tied to the minimum wage. Because the eligibility criteria for unemployment benefits are quite stringent, half of the registered unemployed are without benefits. In February 1995, some 52 percent of the unemployed received unemployment compensation. In early 1995, women accounted for more than 62 percent of the unemployed.
The government provides a number of other benefits, including lump-sum grants upon the birth of each child; temporary disability allowances; trips to sanatoria, spas, health homes, vacation resorts, and other facilities; and benefits for victims of the Chornobyl' disaster.
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