Elaine Fultz, International Labor Organization – Retired
William Arnone, National Academy of Social Insurance
Delivering social security benefits
The war in Ukraine is posing enormous challenges for those who deliver social security benefits. On the one hand, social security institutions are being called on to reach out to those newly eligible for benefits due to unemployment, disability, injury, or death of a family wage earner. At the same time, they must find ways to continue support to beneficiaries driven from their homes to seek refuge in safer regions of the country or who have left it altogether. In doing this, they must cope with dysfunctional banks, post offices, and social security offices, as well as with unpredictable phone and internet connections.
To Americans bombarded with media images of Ukrainian suffering and death, it may seem that any semblance of stability in that country has ended. Yet Ukraine’s government offices are mostly open, and its social security policymakers and institutions are actively tackling the challenges they face, often relying on creative workarounds. Their innovations fall into two broad categories: adapting benefits and extending outreach.
In the wake of the invasion, the Ukrainian Parliament quickly increased the scope and level of social security protection.
To provide immediate help to those who lost their jobs due to the war or who live in areas affected by conflict, it provided one-off emergency payments to all workers listed in its “Unified Social Security Contributions” register.
It authorized temporary monthly payments to internally displaced persons, with higher amounts to families with children or with member(s) with disabilities.
It is reimbursing local governments for housing internally displaced persons, and providing subsidies for employers who hire them.
It authorized an across-the-board 14 percent increase in social insurance benefits for the elderly, disabled, and survivors, along with increases in minimum pensions and pensions for the very elderly.
Ukraine’s social security administrators have also devised new ways to reach out to displaced persons. A mid-March review conducted by the Parliament’s Committee on Social Policy found that, among the country’s social security institutions, the Pension Fund of Ukraine (PFU) is the most effective. This, they explained, is attributable to its central storage of worker, employer, and pensioner information and to the decentralization of pension payments. This arrangement has enabled the PFU to quickly reassign the caseloads of regional offices that have closed due to conflict.
In addition, the Fund has established new channels for benefit payments:
Beneficiaries whose PFU office or post office is no longer functional can receive payments directly from the State Savings Bank of Ukraine, which has offices across the country, without having to open an account. They need only present a national ID and tax number.
The PFU is also issuing passwords to eligible beneficiaries that enable them to collect pension payments over the counter in many retail businesses through an international payment system, “My transfer.”
The Fund also accepts benefit applications and other requests for help via a new telephone hotline, by email, and on its web portal. While it awaits communication from displaced persons, it scrupulously maintains records of past due payments that are owed them.
These measures by no means assure that all Ukrainians in need receive social security benefits. They do, however, reflect great determination and effort by the Parliament, Government, and the PFU to keep the pension system serving its constituents despite enormous stress. Ukraine’s social security administrators responding with exemplary determination to the challenges of war.
Recognize and support
Though their stories are largely absent from media coverage, these Ukrainians deserve recognition and moral support. If you would like to sign a letter expressing appreciation for the wartime efforts of Ukrainian social security policy makers, administrators, and frontline workers, please click here to view a draft and add your name. Please be sure to submit this form by Sunday, May 29 when the signature collection period will close.