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Revaz Kharazi: “The number of people who turned up to a free canteen is 1,500 more as compared to March 2020.”

Verdict: FactCheck leaves Revaz Kharazi’s statement WITHOUT A VERDICT.

Resume: There are 7,595 people in Batumi who are beneficiaries of one-off free meals. The number of people who were beneficiaries of this service in 2020 was 5,522. The number of beneficiaries increased by 736 as early as the beginning of this year and reached 6,258 whilst another 1,337 beneficiaries were added according to the latest data. This means that one-off free meals are provided to 2,073 more beneficiaries as compared to the previous year.

Of note is that hundreds of people are put on the waiting list for free canteens every year. Their number was 1,938 in 2020. Batumi City Hall authorised a great number of applications amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 228 applications were submitted to Batumi City Hall for registration to become a beneficiary of a free canteen in August 2021. The Batumi Social Services Agency NNLE granted permission to all of the individuals on the waiting list in August. Currently, the number of those who are on the waiting list (who are registered on an additional list for a free canteen and awaiting registration as a beneficiary) is zero.

Given these circumstances, FactCheck believes that the context of the statement about a worsening social situation is true and this in turn is also linked with the pandemic-induced crisis. However, the growth in the numbers of Batumi free canteen beneficiaries was stipulated by the decision of Batumi City Hall to grant the requests for all of those people on the waiting list. Currently, there are no people on the waiting list for this assistance. We believe that the figures do not provide a correct reflection of how many people found themselves in a more difficult social situation. As a matter of fact, the number of people in Batumi who registered and became recipients of subsistence aid, as well as those wishing to become aid recipients, has increased. Therefore, FactCheck leaves the statement without a verdict and refrains from a discussion about the number of people whose social situation in fact deteriorated.

It should be said that the number of people who were registered as free canteen beneficiaries in 2019 was 1,140 more as compared to 2016 whilst people who were waiting to be admitted as beneficiaries amounted to 817 more. This means that the growth of their numbers is not related to the pandemic alone.

Analysis

United National Movement member, Revaz Kharazi, stated: “In this city [Batumi,] the number of people who turned up to a free canteen is 1,500 more as compared to March 2020.”

FactCheck verified accuracy of the statement.

People registered in Batumi whose rating points are within the margins from 0 to 65,000 and are granted the status of socially vulnerable and are beneficiaries of the one-off free meals programme. This programme is implemented by the Batumi Social Service Agency NNLE.

FactCheck submitted a request in writing to the Batumi Social Service agency in order to obtain information about the beneficiaries of free canteens and selected a timeframe from 2016 to the present day as the reporting period. It turned out that the number of beneficiaries of free canteens has been rising annually. For instance, the number of beneficiaries increased by 2,073 after 2020. However, figures from the reporting period demonstrate that the COVID pandemic-induced crisis is not the sole culprit behind the growth in the number of beneficiaries.

Table 1: Number of Beneficiaries of One-off Free Meals from 2016 until September 2021

Source: Batumi Social Service Agency NNLE

Table 1 shows that the numbers of both beneficiaries (registered) as well as those on the waiting lists were rising prior to the COVID-19 pandemic from 2016 to 2019. In particular, the number of beneficiaries and those on the waiting lists increased by 1,140 and 817, respectively, in 2019 as compared to 2016.

Those people who are on the additional list and who are awaiting free meals were eligible to get one-off free meals only in the case if a person who was registered as a beneficiary but did not show up and the free canteen had unused food portions. However, the amount of food which was left at the free canteen was insufficient for everyone.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic dangers, free canteens were closed down and the food intended for the beneficiaries was given to them once a month. This decision further complicated the situation of people on the additional waiting lists. The agency increased number of the beneficiaries. There were 228 applications submitted from those people on the waiting lists in August 2021 and the agency granted permission to all of them. In a written communication with FactCheck, the agency clarified that this decision was made on the ground of the closure of the free canteens and starting to distribute food baskets every month. As a result, the number of those on the waiting lists dropped to zero.

Of note is that food expenses allocated for each beneficiary per day have decreased. The amount of money envisioned for feeding one person in September 2021 was GEL 1.33.

Table 2: Daily Feeding Expenses for One Beneficiary of Free Canteens from 2016 until Recently, By Months

Source: Batumi Social Service Agency NNLE

As we see, the daily expenses allocated for feeding one beneficiary was the highest in December 2020. However, it has decreased significantly since January 2021 and further dropped in September. Taking into consideration that food prices were hiked in May 2021, including for those products which are provided to the beneficiaries, we will understand that the money allocated for the one-off meals is very little. Further, part of the beneficiaries are underage and elderly people. Some of the beneficiaries of the free canteens are unable to purchase additional food.

Of note is that according to the Appendix 1 of the Batumi 2021 budget, GEL 3,924,000 is envisioned for the purchase of food for 7,595 beneficiaries. This means that it costs GEL 516.66 for Batumi City Hall to feed one beneficiary for a year.

Remark: FactCheck believes that the context of the statement about a worsening social situation is true and this in turn is also linked with the pandemic-induced crisis. However, the growth in the numbers of Batumi free canteen beneficiaries was stipulated by the decision of Batumi City Hall to grant the requests for all of the individuals on the waiting list. Currently, there are no people on the waiting list for the assistance. We believe that the figures do not provide a correct reflection of the number of people who found themselves in a more difficult social situation. The number of people registered in Batumi who either became recipients of subsistence aid or think they are entitled to the aid and are registered in a unified database.


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