On January 1, 2003, recently adopted amendments to the Bulgarian Act on Social Assistance (“Act”) became effective. The amendments have transformed the Act into a more progressive and enabling law, which promotes social assistance through the joint activity of all sectors, including the not-for-profit sector. The amendments are the result of collaborative efforts led by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy, with the support and input of a number of not-for-profit organizations active in Bulgaria. Thanks to generous USAID support, ICNL – through its Bulgarian affiliate, the Bulgarian Center for Not-for-Profit Law (BCNL) – played an important role in providing technical assistance to the drafting team.
“Social services” under the newly amended Act are defined as “services designed to promote and expand the potential of individuals to exercise an independent life” (§ 6 from the Additional provisions). Article 18 of the Act broadens the scope of potential social service providers to include private legal entities, including not-for-profit organizations (NPOs). Social service providers, which, to date, have been social institutions (state-level and municipal), are encouraged under the new Act to deliver social services to the community through alternative arrangements, including through NPOs.
NPOs wishing to deliver social services must seek registration with the Register at the Agency for Social Assistance, a newly created body at the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. NPOs are held to the same registration requirements as all private legal entities, including commercial entities. (Article 18, Par. 2) Providers of social services to children must additionally receive a license. (Article 18, Par. 3)
The procedural rules for the implementation of the Act – that is, the mechanism through which the state and municipalities will contract with private entities, including NPOs – are currently being prepared, with the participation of the BCNL. Municipalities will assign the management of social institutions in Bulgaria to registered social service providers through a competition. The requirements and procedure for the competition will be detailed in the implementing regulations.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Policy is obliged under the newly amended Act to develop national standards for the quality of social services, which will apply to all social service providers. Failure to comply with these standards will serve as the basis for removal from the Register of the Social Assistance Agency. The standards will be developed and included as part of the implementing regulations of the Act.
The Act also creates new opportunities for NPOs to actively participate in the development of social assistance policy. According to Article 4, representatives of public benefit NPOs shall participate on the Social Assistance Council, a public consultative body acting under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy. The Social Assistance Council will coordinate activities in the social policy area, its precise functions to be determined by a ministerial order.
Finally, the Act creates the opportunity for state funding of social service providers, including NPOs. Social service providers may apply for funding from the Social Assistance Fund, which will collect funds from the state budget, endowments and donations, licensing fees, taxes, and state lottery revenues.