Free day care, cheap tuition on DP’s welfare list

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Free day care, cheap tuition on DP’s welfare list

Shortly after the main opposition Democratic Party vowed free health care for all by 2015, it announced Wednesday an even more expansive - and expensive - platform of welfare policies.

The DP now wants to add a free nursery program and a half-priced college tuition program as part of its “comprehensive welfare plan,” which also includes free school lunches for students.

“An estimated 16.4 trillion won [$14.7 billion] is needed to finance the comprehensive welfare program annually and that includes a free school meal program,” said Jun Byung-hun, the DP’s chief policy maker, yesterday. “The comprehensive welfare program will increase disposable income of households and boost domestic demand. Then it will lead to a surge in investment and production. [The program] will be the start of a virtuous economic cycle. The comprehensive welfare program leads to economic growth and job creation.”

DP Chairman Sohn Hak-kyu urged the ruling Grand National Party to join the DP’s program.

“The GNP shouldn’t reject the comprehensive welfare program, which has emerged from the spirit of the times,” Sohn said. “Instead it should worry about how to join [DP’s] initiatives.”

Of the 16.4 trillion won price tag, the DP estimates 8.1 trillion won will be needed to finance a free public health service program, 4.1 trillion won for free nurseries, 1 trillion won for free school meals and 3.2 trillion for the half-price college tuition program, which aims to partially cover tuition expenses for college students based on their household income.

Under the program, which was mapped out at a meeting of senior DP officials yesterday, the DP wants to provide free kindergarten for all 5-year-olds. For parents of children up to age 4, the DP wants to pay for day care and preschool for the bottom 80 percent of income brackets.

DP officials, however, didn’t decide how to raise the 16.4 trillion won at yesterday’s meeting and decided to discuss it further.

The Grand National Party criticized the program as too “idealistic” and described it as a package of “populist policies” to win votes in presidential and general elections next year.

GNP officials said the DP program will face strong opposition from the people because it would lead to higher taxes, and the party declared a full-fledged war against what it called “populist policies.”

Former National Assembly Speaker Kim Hyong-o said the term “free school lunch” should be changed to “taxpayer’s lunch.”

“There is no free lunch,” Kim said in a meeting with senior GNP officials Wednesday. “No one, I mean even Jesus or Buddha, can promise you free lunches.”

The GNP lost support in local elections last June because of the opposition’s welfare promises. The DP campaigned on providing free school lunches in public elementary school and is extending the program to middle and high schools across the country.

Political analysts said that if the GNP wants to win general and presidential elections next year, it must come up with its own welfare policies. GNP Chairman Ahn Sang-soo also ordered the party leadership to scrutinize the DP’s welfare package and come up with its own welfare program that’s distinct from the DP’s. In a meeting yesterday, the party invited Minister of Health and Welfare Chin Soo-hee to join the discussion.

“To start, for a free health care program as mapped out by the DP, 8 trillion won isn’t enough,” Chin said. “An extra 30 trillion is needed to finance the program. In this case, the cost of health insurance fees will be doubled and this will greatly burden both low- and high-income classes. The DP’s free public health program isn’t entirely free. It means asking the people to pay more taxes to enjoy more benefits.”

In a closed-door meeting with GNP councilors, Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon, who is fighting against the DP-controlled Seoul Metropolitan Council’s free lunch program for schools in the capital, said he’ll risk his political life on the battle.

“This must be solved by a residents’ referendum,” Oh said.

By Kim Mi-ju []

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