Slovak government backs rise in benefits before election

PRAGUE (Reuters) – Slovakia’s three-party coalition government approved on Wednesday a doubling of child benefits and an extra pension payment in 2020 as part of a package it aims to push through parliament before a national election later this month.

The measures, which will boost state spending by hundreds of millions of euros unless resources in the budget can be found, were criticized by opposition parties who hold a combined lead over government parties going into the Feb. 29 election.

The government is led by the leftist Smer party, which has led the central European country of 5.5 million people almost continuously since 2006.

Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini, who is the leader of Smer, proposed the rise in benefits earlier this week and the government aims to push them through a fast-track session of parliament next week.

“I see these steps as responsible and as an investment in the nation’s future,” Pellegrini told reporters after the cabinet meeting, according to Tasr news agency.

Slovak public finances can afford the new spending, he said.

Under the plans, the elderly will receive an extra monthly pension at the end of the year, while widows, people on disability payments and others will also receive extra cash. The total cost to the 2020 budget is estimated at 442 million euros.

The doubling of child benefits will cost an additional 300 million euros when it comes into effect in 2021.

Pellegrini’s government abandoned plans to balance the budget last year. Parliament approved a 2020 state budget aiming to cut the deficit to 0.49% of gross domestic product, down from 0.68% estimated in 2019.

Reporting by Jason Hovet; Editing by Gareth Jones

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