Tegucigalpa We were fortunate to get an extraordinary meeting with Hector Hernandez, sub-director of the Honduran Institute of Social Security. His willingness to meet with us on a Saturday morning in a hotel lobby spoke volumes for both the government and ACORN International about our excitement around a brand spanking new initiative now being rolled out to give Honduran informal workers access to Social Security. The program is so new there are no brochures and little to no publicity about its very existence even in Honduras! Hernandez is responsible for the program and was familiar with our experience with informal workers in the United States, India, and other countries as well as Citizen Wealth, so we both thought we had much to gain from the meeting.
The broad outlines of the program are that informal workers in Honduras would mandatorily pay into a fund and by so doing after the requisite number of quarters worked would be able to qualify for social security and some level of health care on retirement. Abroad both documented and undocumented (legal and illegal, if I need to be clearer) workers would be eligible to voluntarily pay into the fund a fixed amount per month to a correspondent bank to Banco FICHOSA where the government would receive the payments. Importantly, quarters worked in foreign countries could be counted towards the qualifications for later benefits and coupled with quarters worked in Honduras accumulated together for full benefits. The government’s interest was multiple here, but clear was a sophisticated effort to also repatriate Honduras back in-country at retirement by accepting responsibility for social security payments for them.
Hernandez and the Institute of Social Security recognized that they needed deep and extensive organizational partnerships in Honduras to assist in enrolling people to achieve maximum eligible participation, as I have called it repeatedly. They also recognize that if anything they may need even more help in the United States and other countries where there are extensive numbers of Hondurans working. There was clear recognition that no success was possible without organizational assistance. When I asked how many, Hernandez was clear that they really had no hard numbers, but were working backwards from their tracking of remittances into the country to guess that the number was around 1,000,000 workers.
We then talked about ACORN International’s Remittance Justice Campaign and the steps necessary to get cooperation from the Honduran government in moving forward along the same lines we are discussing in Canada with proposals and legislation that would put a ceiling on the cost of remittances. He understood our position completely.
Finding a real opportunity for income security and citizen wealth for Hondurans could establish a model program with wide applications. We have work to do in Hondurans and when we return to the United States to figure out what it would take to make it work. That’s exciting!