Staunton, December 29 – A group of Duma deputies wants to restore the “Hero Mother” award with all its accompanying benefits in order to boost the birthrate in Russia and help solve that country’s demographic problems, but the Russian government is worried about the potential cost of doing so and, while not opposed, is seeking to keep it as inexpensive as possible.
But with the end of the USSR, this program lapsed, even though it had played a valuable role demographically, the Russian commentator suggests. Finally in 2008, faced with population declines, Moscow created a new award, that of “Parental Glory,” which recognized not just mothers but both parents.
The new award did not come with any significant benefits and was hard to get: those who qualified had to collect an enormous number of documents and face endless lines. As a result, over the last six years, only 218 couples have received it. (Some regions, Alekseyev notes, supplemented this award with benefits, but the Russian government as a whole did not.)
Now, a group of Duma deputies have offered a draft bill that would restore the status of Hero Mother and provide more benefits to those who are awarded it, but they face opposition from the government because of what many officials say are the potentially high costs of such a program.
Initially, the deputies wanted to give the status and benefits to any woman who had given birth to five children, but faced with government opposition, they have since limited the potential number of Russian Hero Mothers by limiting the award to those who have given birth to ten children all of whom are still living at the time of the award.
Government officials have also pushed to cut back on the bill’s offer of subsidies, housing and education benefits, and especially early retirement possibilities, Alekseyev says. And the regime’s opposition has been supplemented by those who feel the award is sexist and that fathers should be recognized as well.
The deputies have given ground, but they insist that even if all the benefits the bill calls for were to be handed out to all the Russian women with ten living children, this would not be a burden for the state. They suggest it would cost only several tens of millions of rubles a year, a figure that could be made even less for Moscow by requiring regions to fund much of it.
According to Alekseyev, if each region had to come up with 500,000 rubles (US $10,000) a year, that would be no more than many Russian business managers receive in a month. Given that, how can the government suggest that such a program is beyond its means?
And as far as pensions are concerned, the costs would be truly minimal, the authors of the Duma measure insist. That is because the additional children Hero Mothers would have would pay far more taxes to the state than their mothers would draw out for early retirement.
As Alekseyev puts it, the real question is whether those who talk so much about promoting the good of the country are prepared to show “the political will” necessary to support this measure and actually do so.