Local governments in Russia now have primary responsibility for the administration of social assistance programmes thanks to a combination of decentralization of some responsibilities from higher levels of government and the transfer of certain administrative functions from state enterprises to municipalities. Decentralization has been much greater for programme administration and service delivery than for programme design and funding. But funding responsibility has often shifted more in reality than stated in the law because of unfunded and underfunded national mandates.
Examples of reformed programmes that assign administration to local governments include the restructured child allowance programme and the creation of housing allowances that permit phasing out rent controls in municipal housing (Struyk, 1996). Municipalities have some role in determining programme parameters, but programme design is nonetheless substantially determined at the national level. At the same time there has been a distinct shift to means-testing of social assistance. Among programmes legislated by the Federal government, housing allowances, which began to be implemented in 1994, was the first means-tested programme. In 2000, the benefits under the much larger child allowance programme also became income conditioned. Additionally, most municipalities now employ the so-called ‘double filter’ procedure to target benefits provided with their own resources. As the first step, the potential beneficiary must belong to a certain category, e.g., the disabled, the elderly, a family with many children. The second filter is an income test, with a typical requirement being that household income be less than the minimum subsistence income or, more often, some percentage of the minimum subsistence level that is defined for every region.