Dio Suhenda, Jakarta – The government will roll out a new cash aid program for underprivileged families to help them deal with the impacts of the El Nino weather phenomenon, which has caused prolonged dry spells and stoked concerns of food shortages in many areas throughout the country.
Under the new direct cash assistance (BLT) scheme, each eligible family will receive Rp 200,000 (US$12.61) once a month in November and December.
President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo announced the program during a visit to West Sumatra last week, during which he went to a State Logistics Agency (Bulog) warehouse in the province to check on rice reserves.
"We don't want El Nino to reduce the people's purchasing power. That's why we are rolling out the El Nino BLT scheme," Jokowi said.
In addition to the cash aid, the government plans to extend the free rice program for poor families until December. The government has distributed 10 kilograms of rice per month since September.
"To date, [some families] have received [the rice aid] once, while others have received it twice. I'd say by the end of November, each family will already have received [the package] three times," Jokowi said. "And we will add another batch of rice packages in December."
Separately, Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati said on Wednesday that both forms of aid would be directly sourced from the state budget, and that they are geared toward ensuring that poor families can retain their purchasing power despite inflating food prices.
"The state budget needs to provide protection by strengthening social assistance, especially for low-income families," she said, as quoted from a newsclip on Kompas.com.
The BLT scheme, she said, totaled Rp 7.52 trillion and would be distributed by the Social Affairs Ministry to 18.8 million families. These families are so-called "beneficiary families" who often receive aid from the government, and whose names, addresses and bank account numbers are already in the ministry's registry.
The additional month of rice aid distribution in December, meanwhile, will cost another Rp 2.6 trillion from the state budget, and will be distributed by the National Food Agency to 21.3 million families throughout the country.
Addressing concerns of food shortages has been a top priority of the Jokowi administration for the past few months, as farmers across the country have had to contend with crop failures caused by the prolonged dry season.
Crop failure in Central Papua's Puncak regency in August, for instance, caused a famine that killed six residents and left thousands scrambling for food.
To this end, Jokowi announced earlier this month that Indonesia needed to import another 1.5 million tonnes of rice to counteract the expected poor harvest throughout the country. The import will be on top of the 2 million tonnes of rice the government has assigned Bulog to procure from overseas earlier this year.
Last week, Jokowi appointed Amran Sulaiman as the new agriculture minister, replacing NasDem Party member Syahrul Yasin Limpo, who resigned earlier this month over a corruption investigation at the ministry.
Amran, whose education and career have revolved around agriculture, returns to the same position he held from 2014 to 2019, during Jokowi's first term.
Speaking to reporters following his inauguration, Amran said that he was well versed in dealing with the impacts of El Nino as he also had to deal with the weather pattern in 2015.