THE PHILIPPINES will pilot test a digital food stamp program in July that will benefit as many as a million families under the lowest income bracket, the Social Welfare department said on Tuesday.

The program, which will initially cover 3,000 families, is now in the design stage, Social Welfare Secretary Rexlon T. Gatchalian told a news briefing.

“We are working with the World Food Program, [which] has vast technical expertise when it comes to running food stamp programs worldwide,” he said, adding that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) would provide almost $3 million for the six-month pilot.

Mr. Gatchalian said his agency has hired consultants “to take a second look at what’s being designed so that there’s check and balance.”

Under the program, the agency will release electronic cards loaded with food credits worth P3,000. The cards will be used by beneficiaries to buy a “select list” of food commodities from accredited sellers.

“The tap cards will not be loaded with money, but they will be loaded with food equivalents,” he said. The agency is working with the Food and Nutrition Research Institute in crafting the program.

“The baskets of goods are always composed of 50% carbs, 30% protein, 20% fats.”

The program, called “Walang Gutom 2027,” will be conditional, targeting only the bottom one million households that do not make more than P8,000 a month.

“We will supplement the families’ intake to eliminate the feeling of hunger,” Mr. Gatchalian said, noting that the program could help Filipinos become part of the country’s workforce.

“The condition is when you’re signed up, you have to go to your nearest public employment office, get a certification that you are now being counted as part of the workforce, no matter what job it is.”

A Social Weather Stations (SWS) poll in May showed that half of Filipino families or 14 million households described themselves as poor in the first quarter of 2023 — a steady figure from the December poll.

The Philippine Statistics Agency’s labor force survey showed that the Philippines’ underemployment rate had fallen to its lowest level in 18 years.  That means many Filipinos still can’t cope with rising costs or have difficulty in buying their basic food needs.

A separate SWS poll in March showed 51% of Filipino families rated themselves as poor, unchanged from December. SWS said 31% of families considered themselves borderline poor, while 19% said they were not poor.

The percentage of food-poor families, meanwhile, rose to 39% in March from 34% in December.

Of the 14 million families who considered themselves poor, 1.8 million were newly poor, 1.8 million were usually poor and 10.4 million had always been poor.

Think tank Ibon Foundation said that by hours worked, the number of people employed full time fell by 568,000 between Dec. 22 and March 23. Those in part-time work increased by 15,000.

It said that by class of workers, employment in private establishments fell by 475,000 to 23.1 million in March.

With no formal wage and salary work in enterprises so scarce, 21.1 million Filipinos were struggling with the low or no pay from self-employment and informal work, Ibon said.

The food stamp program will be tested in sites with different geopolitical characteristics, including an area in the Bangsamoro region in Mindanao.

It will also be tested in remote provinces, in an urban poor setting, a calamity-stricken area and a rural poor area, Mr. Gatchalian said.

In 2022, the ADB was the Philippines’ top source of active official development assistance among 20 development partners. Its annual loan financing for the Philippines averaged $1.4 billion (P78 billion) from 2010 to 2022. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza