“A half of the disability pensions are false,” Totyu Mladenov said yesterday. He said it “On four eyes” with Tsvetanka Rizova, but people heard it all over Bulgaria. It is good for the Minister to have the courage to make such an unpopular statement – it gives hope that the Minister will have the courage to launch radical reforms in disability policies. The bad thing is, he said one half-truth – most disability pensions are a miserable addition to their recipients’ income, but they are perfectly legal, Mr Minister. The reason for this is in the system for performance evaluation and the status of the so-called TEMC decision.

Anyone with a disease more serious than the flu can go to a Territorial Expert Medical Commission (TEMC) and get “some percentage lost working capacity” – temporary or permanent. When this percentage is over 50, the person is entitled to a supplement to the pension, and if it is above 70, 90 or 90 with someone else’s help, he or she gets a whole bunch of “blessings” which do not do any good to people with real problems in everyday life – a wheelchair for ten years, for instance! TEMC’s decision – though contestable by different entities – gives all possible benefits to its bearer: from pension supplement through integration allowance, free wheelchairs, crutches, cane, toilet seat, blue parking card, access to subsidized employment, even tax relief. And whatever else. One document for everything! Thus, disability has become a tool for solving household problems, supplementing family incomes, good business for service providers and a source of powerful populism. Because many receive small “extras” for millions of budget levs without any effect on anyone. In addition, the budget is left without money to support those who cannot leave their homes, go to school, work, or theater. “Do you know how much is 10 (ten) levs for my members in small towns and villages?” exclaimed one of the leaders of the so-called nationally representative organizations with much pathos and ardor in her eyes.

That’s the problem, Mr. Minister! And disability pensions are not fake because they are regulated by law.