Rome (AFP) – Italy’s health minister is proposing doubling a ‘baby bonus’ incentive for couples to have more children to combat what she calls a catastrophic decline in the country’s birth rate.

“If we carry on as we are and fail to reverse the trend, there will be fewer than 350,000 births a year in 10 years’ time, 40 percent less than in 2010 — an apocalypse,” the minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, said in an interview published Sunday by daily La Repubblica.

Lorenzin told the paper she wanted to double the standard baby bonus, currently 80 euros ($90) a month for low-to-middle income families, and introduce higher payments for second and subsequent children to encourage bigger families.

Introduced last year, the allowances are currently payable only for babies born between January 1, 2015 and December 31, 2017 up to their third birthdays.

Lorenzin wants to expand eligibility to all under-threes (thereby including those born before 2015) and to extend the provision for an additional three years, covering all babies born up until the end of 2020.

Higher-income families, those with taxable earnings of more than 25,000 euros per year, are not eligible for the scheme, excluding about a third of parents.

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