Small settlements ask central government for more social firewood

February 1, 2017

The mayors of Kübekháza and Mánfa have sent separate letters to the Ministry of the Interior requesting that local governments be given the opportunity to apply to the central government for more funds with which to purchase firewood for distribution to poor households.

The long serving mayor of Kübekház, Róbert Molnár, says the reason local governments cannot afford to purchase additional firewood is because the government “bleeds the local governments dry.” Molnár says Kübekháza received HUF 4 million less in state support for social programs in 2016 than the previous year, “even though it was not enough then.”

“I am in a state of constant stress for fear that someone might freeze,” says Molnár, who wrote a letter to Interior Minister Sándor Pintér at the end of January explaining that there was little the local governments could do to help poor households given the extremely harsh winter conditions.

Last year, Molnár’s settlement, which is situated in the south of Hungary near the Romanian and Serbian borders, won 105 cubic meters of firewood for distribution to 105 families. This firewood has completely run out due to record low temperatures this winter.

Households relying on wood burning stoves for heat reportedly require four times more wood this winter than last, which was relatively mild. Although the local government managed to acquire some additional firewood using its own funds, it will only last another week, says Molnár.

Molnár points out that “social firewood” costs local governments less than 10 percent of what it would otherwise, but that the local governments themselves are responsible for transporting, cutting, and distributing the wood.

A spate of relatively mild winters caused Kübekháza to apply for only 256 cubic meters of social firewood last year, of which it received 105 cubic meters, or roughly one cubic meter of wood for each household qualified to receive social firewood.

“We continuously inspect homes to make sure smoke is coming out of the chimney and the windows haven’t iced up. We had to purchase space heaters for some residents, repair chimneys and replace stove pipes for others. In one case we had to replace an entire stove,” says the mayor.

Molnár, who served as a smallholder member of parliament between 1998 and 2002, says the current situation exists because the government has been “bleeding the local governments dry.”

“Last year we received HUF 16 million worth of normative support for social programs, including social firewood. We exceeded this framework by HUF 2 million despite being very frugal. We created a joint municipal government with three other settlements, with Kübekháza serving as the center.” Molnár says that in this way they were able to save a lot of money.

On Monday Mánfa mayor Krisztina Hohn reportedly sent a letter to the Ministry of the Interior informing the ministry that the town only managed to purchase sufficient firewood for one or two weeks, even though they know of “at least twenty or thirty families in a crisis situation.” Like Molnár, Hohn asked the ministry to make it possible for settlements to apply for more social firewood.