Empty shelves in a Central Madeirense supermarket, the largest grocery chain in Venezuela in 2014. Though food and medicine shortages persist nationwide, a new measure passed by the National Assembly will provide cash and other assistance to seniors and retirees struggling with Venezuela's staggering inflation. Photo courtesy Wikimedia
CARACAS, Venezuela, March 31 (UPI) -- Venezuela's National Assembly has passed a bill that could make it easier for pensioners and retirees to pay for food and medicine coming off a year of massive 180 percent inflation.
The law's purpose is to simplify the process by consolidating multiple benefits into a single unit and by making benefit payments follow a schedule for retirees in the public and private sector.
Payments will be distributed via coupons, vouchers, electronic cards, cash or its equivalent -- at the option of whoever provides the payment.
Each of the law's nine articles were presented for debate in the unicameral National Assembly. A vote was held swiftly in the chamber without much discussion. The Law of Bonds for Food and Medicine for Retirees and Pensioners will be sent up for President Nicolas Maduro's signature. He has not indicated he would veto the measure.
The Bloc of the Motherland political party, a coalition member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela, said it would abstain from voting, while some members of the Democratic Unity Roundtable opposition coalition voiced concerns about funding the measure.
The legislation comes a month after the Central Bank of Venezuela released its official Consumer Price Index, which showed the South American country experienced a 180.9 percent inflation increase in 2015. The overall economy shrank at least 5.7 percent.
The Democratic Unity Roundtable, or MUD, political opposition coalition won a qualified majority, or supermajority, in historic parliamentary elections in December that dealt the first major loss to the socialist movement in Venezuela established by late former President Hugo Chávez. The political shift has increased already-dismal tensions between the MUD and Maduro's PSUV.
"For laws such as we discuss today were why we were elected. This Parliament was elected fo find solutions to the crisis in which we live," MUD congressman Miguel Pizarro said. "So today we put a tool in the hands of the elderly to cope with the crisis in which we are living. This law is the change that the country voted."
Inflation is expected to continue to increase in Venezuela and has already forced the government to take measures including raising oil prices and the minimum wage. In February, Maduro's government announced sweeping measures to deal with the escalating economic crisis.
In January, the International Monetary Fund predicted inflation in the country could reach 725 percent in 2016. The collapse of the economy and a lack of hard currency has resulted in a shortage of essential goods like food and medicine.