Food voucher: why it gets stuck

It’s rare to have a good time when signing a check, but some are more painful than others. The food check is undoubtedly, for Emmanuel Macron, one of the most unpleasant of his two terms, as its implementation is a headache. Inherited from the proposals of the Citizens’ Climate Convention, this instrument intended to provide financial support to 7 or 8 million precarious households to enable them to buy French food products is constantly being postponed. While it had been promised by the President of the Republic in December 2020, then registered six months later in the climate and resilience law, it has still not seen the light of day.

The measure is indeed much more ambitious in the long term than the emergency aid of 100 euros (to which will be added 50 euros per child), which the government is preparing to ratify by decree to respond to the rise in food prices. food. Intended to be paid into the bank accounts of the 8 million poorest households (14 million people) at the start of the school year, this emergency aid will be unmarked and can therefore be used at the discretion of its beneficiaries.

From emergency aid to a long-term check?

Designed to last in a sustainable way, the food voucher could take the form of a monthly aid of 20 to 30 euros. Its cost? Between 1.5 billion and 3.5 billion euros each year for state intervention expenditure, according to a joint report from the General Inspectorate of Social Affairs (Igas) and the General Inspectorate of Finance (IGF). Submitted to the government in the fall of 2021, its content had never been revealed, before the Context and Mediapart sites published the summary.

“In view of inflation, emergency food aid and longer-term checks are welcome to allow the most vulnerable households to eat healthily”, notes Claude Baland, president of the French Federation of Food Banks, which helps 2 million people in France, or 45% of food aid. “Especially since with 7 million people who have only limited access to healthy and nutritious productsthere have never been so many food precarious people in France »he continues.

A problematic arrow

However, the food check remains at a standstill. “I have the honesty to tell you, put in place a system that will allow you to go to your store to buy organic or French-sourced products that will strictly benefit French producers, for the moment, I don’t know. not to do “, admitted in June the Minister of the Economy Bruno Le Maire, on the set of BFMTV.

This management is all the more complicated to set up as several thorny questions remain to be resolved, both on the scope of the aid and on the distribution channels where the check would be eligible.

Should this aid be restricted to organic products? Exclude imported food products from the system? And what about supermarkets, “where the working classes make the majority of their purchases”according to Michel-Edouard Leclerc, president of the strategic committee of the E.Leclerc centres?

The main players in the food market in France did not wait for these dilemmas to be resolved before advancing their pawns. Motivated by the opportunity to sell the stocks of its members, the FNSEA, the main agricultural union and representative of conventional agriculture, has positioned itself in favor of a food voucher with very flexible rules.

Its president Christiane Lambert has thus called for the creation of a usable check “in all distribution channels and in all regions in order to cover all consumption habits” allowing to buy “any food product, raw or processed, of animal or vegetable origin. And encourage the purchase of local products. »

No guarantee for producers

But with such criteria, there is no guarantee that the food voucher system would directly benefit local farmers, producers and breeders, warns Claude Baland:

“If this check takes the form of a magnetic card which only allows purchases in supermarkets, it will be difficult to offer them direct outlets. »

Should we then bend more severely? Perhaps, but that also poses difficulties. The IGF and Igas thus note in their report that earmarking aid could be poorly accepted by the beneficiaries. “It restricts the choice of products, which undermines the acceptability of aid”, can we read in the summary of the document. And anyway, ” effective control capabilities are limited”point to the two services.

“Worse, by restricting this aid to too small a perimeter, the food voucher risks stoking inflationary tension around sustainable products, because demand will increase accordingly”worries Madeleine Péron, economist at the Economic Analysis Council (CAE).

Is this check therefore the most efficient mechanism for enabling poor households to feed themselves better? “If we place ourselves on the side of the beneficiaries, the problem posed by the food voucher is that we assume through this type of mechanism that poor households will misuse the money given to them without take into account their real consumption patterns, which are put in place by adaptation to poverty itself”analyzes the sociologist Deni Colombi, author of But where does the money of the poor go? (ed Payot, 2020).

In the United States, the food stamps, created at the time of the Great Depression of the 1930s to support agricultural production and the wallets of the poorest, thus fueling the black market. Precarious households exchange their food stamps for cash there, often for a lower amount, so that they can buy more urgent things than their food, as sociologist Matthew Desmond has documented in his essay. Notice of evictionawarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2017.

Check against cash

By extension, these vouchers also reflect the precarious situation of a household and attach a heavy social stigma to them, which hinders their use with traders.

“Through the experiments that have been carried out, we realize that it is when we give cash to poor households or when their income increases that they begin to consume better quality food and reduce their expenditure on food. alcohols as drugs, when they consume them”continues Denis Colombi.

These risks of stigmatization and complexity linked to specific systems such as food vouchers are also a source of concern for Igas and IGF: “The proliferation of checks complicates the socio-fiscal system and weakens the management of social assistance”they note, before recalling that the government claimed to want to get out of this logic with its universal activity income project, which is currently gathering dust in the boxes.

Paying more cash to the most precarious to encourage their resumption of activity and allow them to better integrate into the world of work, the idea is not new. But what to do then, to reconcile their interests with those of local producers who lack outlets? For Claude Baland, like Madeleine Péron, the solution lies with the main players in food aid in France:

“Additional funds should be given to food banks so that they buy directly from producers. These would then redistribute their products to associations (the Red Cross, the Secours populaire, the Food Bank and the Restos du Cœur) to return them during food distributions, which benefit 2.2 million people in France each year”she believes.

“By relying on associations and the food aid system, the government would enable the most precarious to benefit from social support, such as associations and food banks offer today”, anticipates Claude Baland.

The procrastination of the government on the food check is not surprising insofar as it tries with this device to run two hares at the same time. On the one hand, it wants to help poor households to feed themselves better in a context of inflation. On the other, he would like to support French farmers.

These two objectives, apparently complementary, are in fact difficult to link mechanically. Because the best way to enable households to eat better is to help them get out of poverty, and therefore to support them directly financially.

Which objective will take precedence over the other? It is feared that the lobbying power of the agricultural camp is greater than that of poverty.

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Food voucher: why it gets stuck