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Greens and SPD wanted to abolish Hartz IV – then came Corona

Federal Minister of Labor Hubertus Heil has presented a bill that is supposed to increase the Hartz IV standard rates – this is not enough for critics.

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Last summer, the Greens said that Hartz IV had to go. Instead, the chairman Robert Habeck called for basic security without forced work or sanctions. The SPD also had big plans: at its party conference in 2019, it had decided on “citizen benefit” with milder sanctions. The party wanted to “leave Hartz IV behind”.

Then the Corona crisis came.

Suddenly, the grand coalition under high pressure had to secure jobs, organize short-time workers’ money, avert impending insolvency waves from large traditional German companies and adopt billion-dollar economic stimulus packages. There was no time, no money for fundamental Hartz IV reforms and additional expenditure.

And that despite the fact that the pressure on the welfare state increases enormously during the crisis.

Already in spring, poverty researchers warned that the corona crisis would hit the low-income population and the low-wage sector particularly hard.

The unemployment rate is now well over 6 percent; the economy shrank by 10.1 percent in the second quarter of 2020. Almost half a million mini jobbers lost their jobs in the crisis. You are not entitled to unemployment benefits.

It doesn’t look much better for Hartz IV recipients: food prices rose during the crisis, and there were additional costs for masks, disinfectants, but also for food that was normally taken over by schools and daycare centers. Families with basic security are also lacking on tablets and smartphones – taking part in digital lessons is becoming a challenge.

The Corona crisis has made it clear that reforms for Hartz IV are needed, a spokesman for the SPD also said to NewsABC.net. But it is currently not assumed that reforms can be implemented with the Union until the next Bundestag election. That is also not part of the current coalition agreement.

The Greens are not bound by these – possibly coalition partners of the Union in the next legislative period.

In the spring, the party commissioned a study from the Institute for Empirical Social and Economic Research to examine necessary reforms in basic social security in the Corona crisis. The result: The Hartz IV rates would have to be recalculated. They were based only on reference groups, which were already among the poorest anyway. There is no “reference to the standard of living of ‘normal’ society, that is to say the middle”.

This is contradicted by Detlef Scheele, board member of the Federal Employment Agency. In an interview with Die Zeit, he said that he could understand the demand for temporary additional help for Hartz IV recipients. There is already a child bonus for families with basic security. But Hartz IV does not have to be fundamentally rebuilt.

But grants alone don’t solve the basic problem, says distribution researcher Irene Becker. She is one of the authors who contributed to the study for the Greens. “The starting level of Hartz IV standard requirements is calculated in a methodologically impermissible way,” says Becker. This leaves no room for unforeseen, special costs in the Corona period or beyond.

For the Greens, however, there is no more to the Greens in the opposition. Even if they came to power in a black and green government after the next federal election, the Union would stand in the way of a Hartz IV reform.

The CDU and CSU want to maintain the existing basic security. The reason: Another basic security law could not be justified against taxpayers and employees, says Peter Weiss, chairman of the CDU working group on labor and social affairs, to NewsABC.net.

He sees the Greens’ proposal for basic security as “political arbitrariness”. And further: “For everything you can find a scientist who supports that.”

The Union is currently only considering two reform approaches for Hartz IV.
On the one hand, through the additional earnings regulation, so that Hartz IV recipients do not stop earning something from 100 euros. On the other hand, proof of income should be made less bureaucratic. There should be no more Hartz IV reforms in this legislative period.

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