The heating was not working, but nobody felt the cold. There were nearly a dozen people crowded into the small room, which it smelt of strong coffee and cold smoke.
All of them were clutching their paperwork, which ranged from a letter from officials in Duisburg and a summons from the public prosecutor’s office in Berlin to a warning from the city of Bochum.
The welfare café in Duisburg, in Germany’s most populus state of North-Rhine Westphalia, is part of a program called “Mensch ist Mensch,” or people are people, that is designed to help people on the fringes of society navigate the country’s complex social security system. The program has been particularly necessary since a ruling by the Federal Social Court in December that declared anyone staying in the country longer than six months without a job can receive welfare benefits. Thousands of families could benefit from this ruling, if only they could deal with the paperwork.
But Labor Minister Andrea Nahles moved on Thursday to pass a law that would limit the full impact of the ruling. She wants to restrict social benefits for non-German E.U. citizens until they have worked in Germany, without state assistance, for five years.
After that period, they can apply for a reduced version of Germany’s unemployment benefits, known as Hartz IV, or welfare benefits, but would have to take a job they are offered. Ms. Nahles also emphasized that even accepting a mini-job would be sufficient to justify a claim for benefits before the five-year period had expired.