PUTIN WANTS TO MAKE SURE LONGER NEW YEAR BREAK WON'T DISRUPT PENSION PAYMENTS

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MOSCOW, November 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin has proposed amending the 2004 federal budget law and the pension fund budget law so as to make sure that the newly-prolonged New Year break does not result in pension delays.

President Putin voiced the proposal as he met with Pension Fund Chair Gennady Batanov, Wednesday. He said he was hopeful that parliament would not object to his idea of paying pensions in advance.

Earlier this week, the State Duma, or Russia's lower house of parliament, approved a bill extending the New Year break to January 5th. With Orthodox Christmas celebrations coming immediately afterwards, the holiday season may actually run through January 10.

The Pension Fund chief pledged that 80 percent of the country's pensioners, primarily WWII veterans and disabled persons, would get their benefits within the first ten days of January. To achieve this goal the necessary amount of money will have to be found by late December.

According to Mr. Batanov, the Pension Fund reserve, now totaling 97 billion roubles (the U.S. dollar/rouble rate is currently at R28.42), will make it possible for January pensions to be paid earlier than usual. "We will find the money for early pensions and other welfare benefits," he assured. "To be able to make the payments before January 1, we will only need a relevant Cabinet resolution and a go-ahead from the Finance Ministry," the Pension Fund chief said. But President Putin retorted by saying that decisions of the government and the financial ministry would not be sufficient, and amendments to this year's budget law would also be necessary.

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