The Second Chamber of the Dutch Parliament on Thursday approved the law proposal to introduce the children’s allowance (“kinderbijslag”) in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.
Depending on how fast the First Chamber passes the law proposal, parents on the islands will be receiving US $38 per month per child per January 1, 2016. For St. Eustatius and Saba the amount will be US $41. The associated cost of the implementation of this new law has been calculated at 1.74 million euros.
With the cooperation of the Second Chamber’s Permanent Committee for Social Affairs and Employment, which handled the Caribbean Netherlands Children’s Allowance Provision Law during a legislation debate Wednesday night with State Secretary of Social Affairs and Employment, Parliament was able to vote on the law proposal the very next day.
The State Secretary expressed the hope that the First Chamber would also be as cooperative as the Second Chamber so the law can go into effect on January 1, 2016. The implementation of the law will be delayed by half a year if the Senate cannot handle the law proposal before the end of this year and will then only become effective on July 1, 2016.
When the law proposal came to a voting in the Second Chamber on Thursday, all parties voted in favour, except for the governing liberal democratic VVD party and the opposition Party for Freedom PVV. The law proposal was passed with a small majority.
Member of the Second Chamber Anne Mulder (VVD) stated during Wednesday’s debate that his party had a problem with the law because the amount of US $38 per child per month was not based on solid research on how much the amount should be.
“The amount of US $38 is guesswork. The questions that should be answered fi rst are: how high should the norm for the level of services offered by Government be on the islands? And does this law proposal fi t in that norm? We need to establish that norm, and I think the islands would also like an establishing of this norm,” said Mulder.
Roelof van Laar of the Labour Party PvdA and Steven van Weyenberg of the Democratic Party D66 were highly critical of Mulder’s stance. Van Laar and Van Weyenberg pointed out that poverty was a major problem on the three islands and that the children’s allowance was very much needed for low income families. This latter group can barely make use of the existing tax reduction for households with children since people with low income group on average do not pay income tax.
“We are not taking a pot of gold to the islands. This is needed. It is only justifi ed that people who need this the most can fi nally receive children’s allowance,” said Van Weyenberg. Van Laar remarked that there were international norms on what was considered a subsistence minimum. “According to the international norm, one should be able to sustain his or her family with a minimum wage. That is currently not the case in the Caribbean Netherlands. The children’s allowance is important for low income families,” Van Laar said.
Machiel de Graaf (PVV) made abundantly clear during the debate that his party was against any allowance, or any “free money” for that matter going to the islands. He blasted the islands for complaining about the amount of US $38. “They are getting money and they whine that the amount is too low. Well then, we should just keep the money.”
Tunahan Kuzuk of the two member Kuzuk/Öztürk party had an entirely different view: In his opinion the law was too meagre and the amount too low. “That amount is not justifi ed considering the high prices of basic necessities on the islands. Single mothers can’t make ends meet.”
Kuzuk made a plea to increase the amount to the same level as in the Netherlands where parents, depending on the age, receive 63 to 91 euros per child per month. “The amount for the islands is a mere 45 per cent of the amount of the children’s allowance in the Netherlands. Does that mean that a child on the islands is worth 45 per cent less? This is unfair and it creates second class citizens in the Netherlands.”
The amendment that Kuzuk submitted to increase the children’s allowance to the Dutch level was rejected when it came to voting on Thursday. His motion which called on the Dutch Government to prevent children from growing up in poverty in the Caribbean Netherlands was carried.
Tjitske Siderius of the Socialist Party (SP) suggested adding an income dependent aspect in the law whereby low income families would receive a higher children’s allowance. “We have to share this more equally. It is important that the money ends up at the people who most need it,” she said. Siderius’ motion to attach the children’s allowance to the height of income was voted down on Thursday.
Siderius’ motion to ask the government to make it possible for new parents to automatically fi le for children’s allowance when they register their child’s birth at the Census Offi ce was adopted.
Van Laar withdrew the motion that he submitted together with Carla Dik-Faber of the ChristianUnion which requested government to draft a plan with concrete data to calculate the subsistence minimum and to ensure that heads of households on the islands earned suffi cient to sustain their families. Van Laar said he would rephrase the motion in order to secure the support of the majority in Parliament and then resubmit it for voting within a week or two.
State Secretary Klijnsma had advised against the motion because in her opinion achieving a minimum subsistence level for everyone was not only a task of Government. She also objected to the term used by Van Laar that the minimum wages on the islands were not “liveable” because they were too low to sustain a family.
During the debate on Wednesday, Van Laar asked about the islands’ wishes to utilise the 300,000 euros that Klijnsma had reserved to alleviate poverty for an increase of the children’s allowance. The State Secretary confi rmed for St. Eustatius and Saba this enabled an increase from US $38 to US $41 per month per child. Bonaire would use its share of the funds to apply a cost of living adjustment.
The children’s allowance law will replace the current tax reduction for families with children. This means that parents of all 5,000 children in Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba could benefi t, instead of the parents of the 2,000 children making use of the tax reduction. Klijnsma said that all parents had a right to receive children’s allowance, whether they lived in the Caribbean Netherlands or the Netherlands.
The State Secretary and several Members of the Second Chamber expressed their appreciation for former Member of Parliament Cynthia Ortega-Martijn of the Christian Union whom they referred to as the brainchild of the Caribbean Netherlands children’s allowance.
The Daily Herald.