A series of substantial measures have been taken in the Argentine Republic in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Of particular note among these are the financial bolstering of social security benefits, the strengthening of institutions’ digital customer-service channels and the launch of measures to support and maintain formal employment. The country’s National Social Security Administration (Administración Nacional de la Seguridad Social – ANSES), Federal Administration of Public Resources (Administración Federal de Ingresos Públicos – AFIP), Secretariat for Social Security (Secretaría de Seguridad Social), National Social Services Institute for Retirees and Pensioners (Instituto Nacional de Servicios Sociales para Jubilados y Pensionados – PAMI) and Superintendency of Occupational Risks (Superintendencia de Riesgos del Trabajo – SRT) play a key role in this scheme.
Containment measures in the social security field
The aim of the measures put in place in the context of this health crisis, which is impacting on the economy as a whole, was to improve the wellbeing of the most vulnerable sections of the population, who have seen their incomes drop during the mandatory period of preventive social confinement. There were also a series of actions targeted at employers.
The primary measures implemented were as follows:
- Emergency Family Income (IFE): A lump-sum payment of 10,000 Argentine pesos (ARS) aimed at people finding themselves out of work, informal economy workers, single-tax contributors registered in the lowest categories, single-tax contributors subject to the subsidized rate and domestic workers in private homes. The ANSES is responsible for paying and implementing the IFE.
- Extraordinary bonus: Retirees and pensioners in receipt of minimum benefits and beneficiaries of the Universal Child Allowance (AUH) and/or Pregnancy Allowance have received a one-off payment of ARS 3,000.
- PAMI food programme: In May, 540,000 retirees and pensioners received a one-off payment of ARS 1,600. 4,200 senior centres also received a one-off subsidy of ARS 15,000.
- Social credit: The period of grace for loan repayments was extended for all retirees, pensioners and AUH beneficiaries. Retirees and pensioners are also able to request payment refunds for loans taken out with certain financial institutions.
- Food Card: Holders of this card (parents of children aged six and under in receipt of the Universal Child Allowance and women in receipt of the Pregnancy Allowance) have benefitted from a one-off bonus payment worth between ARS 4,000 and ARS 6,000.
- Emergency Work and Production Assistance Programme: With a view to safeguarding jobs, employer contributions into Argentina’s integrated social security system (SIPA) have been reduced by up to 95 per cent; the State is subsidizing, in the form of an advance, up to 50 per cent of the salaries of private sector workers; unemployment benefits have been increased; and interest-free loans are available to self-employed workers making social security contributions.
- AFIP Payment Facility Plan: A scheme offering more flexible payment terms to ease the burden of tax, customs and social security obligations.
- Recognition of COVID-19 as an occupational disease, both for healthcare workers and for other categories of workers, granting them coverage through occupational risk insurance companies.
Social security services’ operational and continuity measures
Faced with a widespread lockdown, whose core objective is to safeguard public health, the authorities have had to adapt their customer-service systems, strengthening their digital channels and streamlining access to benefits. In the context of the current crisis, one of the key challenges was to ensure service continuity and the timely payment of pensions. Inter-institutional collaboration was also very important when it came to implementing payment of the IFE.
With this in mind, the following measures were put in place in Argentina:
- Pension-access appointments: All appointments have been postponed until after the health crisis, with the original appointment date taken as the file-submission date so as not to put those with a prearranged appointment at a disadvantage.
- A specific customer-service schedule in banks: Certain days were exclusively earmarked for the payment of pensions, benefits, social assistance programmes and unemployment insurance.
- Strengthened ANSES, AFIP and PAMI digital customer-service channels for use in managing a wide range of procedures and queries. The PAMI app was also launched, enabling individuals to carry out certain procedures, as well as submit queries and complaints, from a smartphone.
- Proof of life for retirees and pensioners: The ANSES extended its suspension of the need for proof-of-life updates during May and June so as to guarantee the payment of benefits due in this period.
- Extension of expired benefit approvals: The ANSES automatically extended, for the duration of the mandatory period of social confinement, approvals issued to legal guardians, social services or representatives for the receipt of welfare benefits on behalf of minors and individuals with a mental health condition, except where there exists a specific legal ruling to the contrary.
- Issuance of an SRT protocol detailing the requisite working conditions and environment to prevent the spread of COVID-19, both when travelling to and from the place of work and in terms of the organization and execution of work tasks.
From an internal perspective, the authorities have rolled out teleworking systems for a large number of their employees with a view to safeguarding their health and ensuring service delivery. At the same time, they have trained their staff in COVID-19 prevention protocols and adopted special health and safety and hygiene measures in their buildings.
In a global health crisis such as this one, social security institutions have a central role to play. In Argentina, these institutions have contributed financial and logistical resources to confronting this pandemic, thereby supporting the population as a whole, but in particular its most vulnerable groups.
To guarantee the payment of welfare benefits and the provision of customer services, the various public bodies took coordinated action. This came in the form of special payment processes, strengthened digital management and information channels, and a series of exceptional economic measures.
Argentina’s response has demonstrated the need for State-level engagement in the face of a crisis of this nature, with the roll-out of inclusive and extraordinary measures and the adaptation of customer-service systems in order to be able to respond effectively to the community’s needs.