Syrian refugee cash assistance scheme in the spotlight

The Daily Star

Mat Nashed

Displaced

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Cash assistance has offered a vital lifeline to the most destitute Syrian households in the country and its removal would plunge many beneficiaries back into abject poverty, according to two reports presented at the Tamar Hotel in Hazmieh Monday. The reports were undertaken to specifically evaluate the impact of the Lebanese Cash Consortium, a body of six NGOs, in improving the lives of those most vulnerable.

The LCC has been providing Syrian households with $174 a month in cash assistance over the last year and a half. This amount, coupled with a separate cash card handed out by the World Food Program and some external income, would allow a Syrian household of five to live off around $419 a month – an amount that still fails to bring beneficiaries up to the WFP-defined poverty line of $3.84 per person per day.

Tom White, the head of party for the LCC, told The Daily Star that the consortium first wanted to provide Syrian households with greater cash assistance but were prohibited by the government from doing so.

“Our initial minimum expenditure basket that we first put on the table was $570, when factoring in the assistance many receive from WFP,” he said. “But the government refused because they said that this amount exceeds the minimum wage in Lebanon.”

Numerous aid organizations have argued that providing Syrian households with less assistance will sabotage rather than protect the minimum wage. This is particularly the case for vulnerable Syrian refugees who – often barred by law from working – are pushed into an exploitive job market where most earn half as much as their Lebanese counterparts.

Many aid workers acknowledged that a better approach would be for the Lebanese government to increase their welfare assistance to poor Lebanese citizens while enforcing the minimum wage across the country.

With that said, the reports at least highlighted a few benefits to the cash assistance program. Overall LCC cash recipients were reported to have increased their consumption noticeably through purchasing the most essential items such as food. The studies also documented that much of the money was put toward housing, an expense that has crippled thousands of Syrian households.

Francesca Battistin, a researcher who headed one of the studies, said that Syrian refugees who don’t benefit from LCC assistance are almost twice as likely to borrow money to pay their rent.

“There is a consistent finding that consumption increases [with LCCP assistance], which means that beneficiaries consume rather than save money,” she said in her presentation.

While that might be the case, the LCC primary objective is to help the most vulnerable Syrian refugees to access their basic needs to survive. Some aid workers noted that beneficiaries consequently do not have enough, if any, financial stability to save a semblance of an income.

This was the No. 1 reason cited for why the LCC cash assistance program remains vital. Many Syrian households reported experiencing higher levels of stress despite receiving cash assistance, since they realized that they wouldn’t be able to depend on it once it’s discontinued.

Jilian Foster, a specialist in data research for Global Insight who evaluated the impact that cash assistance has on children, said that the LCC program is necessary to maintain due to how expensive it is to survive in Lebanon. She further added that though beneficiaries reported a slightly better quality of living, its limited impact should be attributed mainly to the size of the cash assistance they received.

“The dietary diversity of the beneficiaries increased only slightly and I think that speaks volume to the size of the cash they receive,” she said. “But in many ways I think that it is important to keep [LCC program] because Lebanon is extremely expensive.”

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