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Russian President Vladimir Putin does not rule out the opportunity of raising nearly all benefits categories to the federal level
He said this on Tuesday at a session of the State Council, adding that the government and federation members had already considered this option. "It is realistic but it will cut benefits for all categories of people who receive them," said the president. At the same time, he believes that "this can be discussed." Putin also called on members of the State Council to realize that this might lead to additional confiscations from the federation members' budget revenues. "Everything is possible, this needs to be discussed. We will continue this conversation in an informal atmosphere," said the president. The president made this statement in reply to St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko's concern that the majority of veterans remained in federation members. Matvienko advocated a single approach to replacing benefits with financial compensations. "All the benefits should be transferred into financial compensations," she said. "The idea [of replacing benefits with financial compensations] is correct, but its implementation should be accurate as well," said the governor. Meanwhile, Minister of Health and Social Development Mikhail Zurabov stressed at the State Council session that the replacement of benefits with financial compensations did not mean the ban on social support for citizens. "The funding mechanism has merely been changed," said Zurabov. In his words, the government deems it important to preserve privileged access for people receiving benefits to services in four areas - city transport, commuter trains, and also provision of medicines, and sanatorium and resort treatment. These proposals have been quite carefully worked out, said Zurabov. The minister noted that in this case citizens were not so much concerned over the size of allowances, but whether they would retain the benefits they had before. The government has conducted talks with the Russian Railways joint stock company and the largest pharmaceutical companies, and achieved a number of agreements. According to Zurabov, Russian Railways is ready to provide annual season tickets for commuter trains to benefit receiving groups with no limitations in terms of zones and the number of trips, for the price of 40 rubles ($1 equals about 29 rubles). "This will be a personal document not to be given to anyone else," said Zurabov. After a year, if the citizen wants, the document will be extended. If not, he will be paid 40 rubles. The same will be true for city transport. As for medicine provision, Zurabov said, "We will purchase medicines either in a centralized way or on the request from citizens." Besides, the minister said, a mechanism for additional subsidies might be established to cover expenses on the treatment of insular diabetes, oncological illnesses, TB and bronchial asthma - "the illnesses not covered by medical insurance." The Duma will consider the draft law on replacing benefits with financial compensations in the first reading on July 2, and in the second reading - on August 2, said Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin to the State Council. The State Duma will gather for an additional session in August to adopt this law in the second and third readings, said the minister. Therefore, the adoption of the budget will not be postponed until late fall. The 2005 budget will allocate 157 billion rubles for replacing benefits with financial compensations, said Kudrin. "We will apply all efforts to fix additional payments for the population in the 2005 budget to cover the benefits replaced with compensations," said Kudrin. "The 157 billion rubles will be laid down in the budget next year and then indexed annually together with pensions," said the minister. In his words, in 2005, over 20 billion rubles will be allocated by the federal center for benefits in communal payments. Moreover, Kudrin added, the government will provide free trips on suburban transport for veterans, whose benefits are provided at the federal level. "Thanks to the achieved agreements, we can buy out benefits for all veterans of the federal level to travel for free on suburban transport during a year," said the finance minister. "Federation members can also buy tickets for veterans," he said. According to the finance minister, considering that these benefits will be bought out, the transport system and railway transport will receive about 6 billion rubles. Kudrin added that this "will even affect tariffs, which will not grow so rapidly next year."
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