Sat, 05 Mar 2005

Subsidized rice gives hope to poor Jakartans

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Fifty nine-year-old Lasiem speaks enthusiastically of the relief she feels at being able to keep food on the table.

"Alhamdullilah (Praise be to God), since I joined this program two years ago, my family and I have never lacked food," says Lasiem, who lives with her married 22-year-old daughter, son-in- law and two grandchildren.

Living in a 5 meter by 4 meter house in Community Unit 4 in South Rawabadak subdistrict, North Jakarta, Lasiem is entitled to buy 20 kilograms of rice at Rp 1,000 per kilogram, compared to the market price of Rp 2,800 per kilogram sold by State Logistics Agency (Bulog).

One hundred and forty-two other poor families in Rawabadak benefit from the government's low-income assistance fund, which also includes free health care and education for the poor.

In Jakarta alone, 277,174 poor families benefit from the program.

"The raskin (rice for the poor) helps me lighten the burden of my daughter's family. It's hard enough for them to survive and take care of the children on my son-in-law's uncertain income," said Lasiem.

Her son-in-law works as a janitor at an automotive workshop in Ciputat, South Jakarta, and comes home once a month after he receives his salary, which barely covers the family's daily needs.

To make ends meet while her son-in-law is away working, Lasiem, who previously worked as a waitress at a military canteen, often borrows money from neighbors or works at a friend's food stall.

"I repay the loans when my son-in-law comes home with his pay. I also use some of his money to buy the cheap rice," said Lasiem, who was widowed 16 years ago.

With a trembling yet calm voice, Lasiem, born in Cilacap, Central Java, said it was upsetting when supplies of subsidized rice did not arrive on the 25th or 26th of the month as scheduled.

"I get so worried when it comes one or two weeks late, and all I can do is grumble to myself. I can't afford to buy rice at the market, which usually costs more than Rp 3,000 per liter," said Lasiem.

"I can buy rice at the fixed price, without any trouble because I have a raskin card ... unlike my daughter," she said.

Wati, Lasiem's only daughter, said that she can buy cheap rice too, but has to pay Rp 27,000 more per 20-kilogram sack.

"I have to pay Rp 27,000 for a sack of rice. But most of the time I have to push and shove against other people who don't have raskin cards either, just so we can get some cheap rice," Wati explained.

Wati said that 20 kilograms of rice per month was not enough to feed five mouths. To cover the shortfall, once every two months, Wati and her mother buy two extra sacks of subsidized rice at a higher price.

"With my mother being a member of the raskin program, my family can afford quality rice that is cheap. The rice has been better this past year. Previously, we could hardly swallow the rice they supplied," said Wati.

Wati is glad her mother also has a welfare card (Gakin), which entitles her to free health care.

"Because I don't have a Gakin card, I often use my mother's for medical treatment. As for my two children, I pay Rp 3,000 per child every time I take them to the subdistrict community clinic," said Wati. (001)