Paz Bernaldo believes that the emergency relief measures that Argentina has enacted in response to COVID-19 could paradoxically increase financial exclusion in the country. In her latest field diary, the Yoti Digital Identity Fellow expressed particular concern about the Emergency Family Income Payment (IFE), a government program that provided low-income citizens with a 10,000ARG payment to help them get through the pandemic.
The problem, according to Bernaldo, is the way in which that money was distributed. The first time around, approved recipients could have the money deposited directly into a bank account, or they could collect it in person at a public mail office. However, direct deposit was the only option for the second payment, which means that anyone without a bank account would essentially be denied relief funds during the pandemic.
While Argentina does have a law that requires all banks to offer a free, universal bank account to anyone with a valid National Identity Card, such a system inevitably excludes migrant workers and low-income Argentinian citizens who do not have an Identity Card. Those individuals are more likely to come from vulnerable communities, which means that many of the people most in need of relief may not be getting the financial help they require.
The same is true for those who meet the necessary ID requirements but do not know how to navigate the system. Argentinian citizens need to fill out an online application to qualify for IFE, and often need to take similar steps to open up a bank account. That can be prohibitively difficult for people without an internet connection, or those who are using legacy technology that may not support the latest apps.
The program also poses a considerable threat to people’s privacy. Citizens are usually asked to give away a wealth of personal and biometric information when opening a bank account. Since low-income people cannot afford to forego IFE, they are functionally being forced to cede control of their personal data in a way that higher-income individuals are not.