Ignoring GNP and DP, gov’t says no expansion of child care

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Ignoring GNP and DP, gov’t says no expansion of child care

The government said this week that it would not expand free child care to cover all of the nation’s children under the age of five, despite the Grand National Party’s pledge earlier this month to do so and putting the brakes on lawmakers’ drive for universal welfare programs ahead of next year’s elections.

Hwang Woo-yea, the GNP floor leader, announced the pledge on Aug. 7 at an event marking his 100th day in the ruling party’s leadership post, in a move he called necessary to raise the nation’s plummeting birthrate.

An official from the Ministry of Health and Welfare said on Wednesday that its budget for next year, submitted to the Ministry of Strategy and Finance, allocated the same amount of funding for the government’s child care program as this year.

“As no changes to those eligible for child care subsidies were included in the budget, additional funding for child care has not been discussed with the Finance Ministry,” the official said.

Currently, the government supports child care in two ways.

It offers subsidies to households with children under the age of five in the nation’s bottom 70 percent by income - those with a monthly income of 4.8 million won and below for a family of four. If these children are looked after at home instead of at a care center, additional support is provided to selected households. The same standards will be applied next year.

In May, the government announced that it would offer free child care for all five-year-old children starting next year by making day care and kindergarten part of the nation’s compulsory public education, leaving those ages four and under without a comprehensive child care program.

The Ministry of Health and Welfare’s decision to leave the existing program unchanged is a sharp departure from Hwang’s pledge as well as the Democratic Party’s pledge in January to extend free child care to families in the bottom 80 percent of the country by income.

“There’s a limit that the Ministry of Health and Welfare can spend. Also, as many local governments would not be able to follow suit if state subsidies for child care expand, we have decided not to expand support,” said the official.

By Shin Sung-sik [sharon@joogang.co.kr]
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