Bulgaria’s interim government offers to revamp budget and raise pensions By Reuters

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SOFIA (Reuters) – Bulgaria’s interim government proposes to amend the 2021 fiscal budget and use surplus revenue to boost state pensions and prepare the Balkan country for any upsurge in the COVID-19 pandemic, its finance minister said on Thursday.

Assen Vassilev said state revenues will exceed those initially anticipated by 2 billion levs ($1.21 billion) and most of that should be used to support the elderly, businesses and the health system rather than to significantly decrease the country’s fiscal deficit.

Vassilev said the extra revenues will reduce fiscal shortfall to 3.6% of economic output this year from a target of 3.9%. The Balkan country ended 2020 with a fiscal deficit of 3%. Its small and open economy is estimated to grow by 3.5% after decreasing by 4.2% in 2020 because of the pandemic.

The expected drop in the deficit will allow Bulgaria to avoid raising more than the initially planned 4.5 billion levs in new debt this year, Vassilev said. The finance ministry has already sold 800 million levs in treasury bonds in 2021.

Under the plan, which requires government and parliamentary approval, some 575 million levs will increase by 12.5% on average the pensions of some 2.1 million retired Bulgarians in the European Union’s poorest member state.

Additional social payments are planned for those whose incomes are below the poverty line – set at 369 levs per month, Vassilev said.

“At present, 43% of the pensioners (have incomes) below the poverty line. With the combination of the proposed measures this percentage will come down to zero,” Vassilev told reporters.

Another 430 million levs will support businesses and some 335 million to prepare the country’s healthcare system for any new wave of the novel coronavirus.

Bulgaria registered just 96 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, but health authorities have reported increased numbers of the Delta variant, which spreads particularly easily. They have said the country, among of the least vaccinated in the EU, could face a spike in infections later this year.

Bulgaria’s parliament had its first sitting on Wednesday after the anti-establishment ITN party narrowly won elections this month. It has yet to hold talks in the fractured chamber to try to win support for a minority government.

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