FEATURE-Argentina's poor at risk as inflation weakens safety net
By Brad Haynes and Kevin Gray
BUENOS AIRES Feb 28 (Reuters) - At a soup kitchen in a Buenos Aires slum, Alejandro Monzon hung his head as he stood in line and recounted how his fortunes have unraveled over the last year.
Food prices have soared, the 29-year-old maintenance worker complained, squeezing his meager monthly budget and leaving him reliant on charity to keep his wife and six children fed.
"I hoped it wouldn't come to this," he said. "But it's just too hard to make ends meet now."
He is not alone. A sharp currency devaluation in Argentina last month has worsened one of the world's highest inflation rates, threatening to unravel a generous social safety net at the heart of President Cristina Fernandez's economic policies.
One in four Argentine families now rely on state welfare programs ranging from payouts for the unemployed to scholarships for poor high school students, as social spending boomed along with the economy over much of the past decade.
Monzon was one of millions of Argentines who benefited. He moved into a bigger government-built apartment and found a job at a supermarket that helped him buy a car and even a flat-screen TV.
But climbing consumer prices in recent years have overtaken his monthly salary of 4,000 pesos ($507 at the official exchange rate, or about $350 at the black market rate) - a complaint echoing throughout Argentina.
Monzon watched the value of his paycheck tumble further last month when the Argentine peso devalued sharply, triggering a spike in prices of food and other goods. Continuación...