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Electronic Vouchers For One In Eight Iranians To Buy Low-Price Rationed Food

Food distribution for destitute – Kerman Province – Iran. Undated photo

A new plan to tackle the effect of sanctions on low-income Iranians, includes issuing electronic vouchers to ten million underprivileged citizens.

The vouchers are to be used for "fair distribution" of rationed essential goods at subsidized prices.

It is still not known if the new plan entirely replaces current monthly cash subsidies paid to everyone, or it is going to be an extra financial assistance the government is offering to the poorest ten million Iranians.

The measure appears to be a response to skyrocketing prices of everything including essential household goods such as bread, rice, sugar and meat to put the at the disposal of those who can no longer afford to purchase them.

The Islamic Republic’s Ministry of Cooperatives, Labor and Social Welfare, aka Labor Ministry, has prepared a plan to allocate one million rials worth of (roughly $23 at official rate -$8 at open market rate) monthly “Goods Card” to ten million persons in Iran, roughly one out of every eight Iranians, the economic website Eqtesad Online reported.

The Ministry’s deputy, Ahmad Meydari told IRGC affiliated Tasnim news agency on Sunday, September 16, “The plan for allocating ‘goods cards’ to ten million people have been presented to President Rouhani.”

Based on the Ministry’s plan, bank cards of the people who currently receive governmental cash subsidies will be replaced by “Goods Cards” for procuring essential commodities from shops and stores in a limited amount. The cards will be recharged every month.

The new plan halts consumers’ access to government cash, but, allows them to procure the essential imported products they need in a guaranteed way, Meydari elaborated. This could mean than the current 450,000 per month cash subsidy is to be replaced with a card that can buy one million rials worth of goods.

It is not clear if the retail sector will like the plan in its details and will cooperate in selling goods to the card holders.

This is similar to the coupons issued during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s which enabled people to buy rationed goods at a discounted price.

Earlier, the caretaker of the Labor Ministry, Anoushiravan Mohseni Bandpey, had promised to distribute “commodity baskets” among the underprivileged before the end of current Iranian calendar month (September 22).

He added that the government is considering several plans including the introduction of "electronic vouchers" to help the “fair” distribution of essential commodities; euphemism for "rationing."

Administration-owned daily newspaper Shahrvand quoted Bandpey as saying that the Iranian government has allocated 13 billion dollars to providing 25 essential commodities to low-income people during the rest of the current Iranian year in till March, Nobakht told the Iranian Students News Agency on Friday.

Prior to Nobakht’s announcement, on September 2, the parliament had approved the double-urgency motion that calls on the government to import essential commodities and sell the goods to the nation at subsidized prices at cooperatives and state-owned shops, said the parliament’s website.

During the session, MP Mohammad Mahmoudi Shahneshin suggested essential commodities including foodstuffs should be distributed via coupons or other means, Iranian media reported.

The idea of distributing coupons was also put forward earlier by economists and members of the parliament as a way to cope with the effects of U.S. sanctions against Iran, but the Rouhani administration has so far resisted the measure, fearing its “psychological impact.”