Web of welfare programs cause red tape, waste

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Web of welfare programs cause red tape, waste


Ji Hyun-suk, 57, who is unemployed, endures the cold with blankets because her heating is broken. She visited local government offices for help but they turned her away and told her to speak to her landlord. She is unable to pay for the repairs and doesn’t understand the paperwork required for assistance. By Kang Jung-hyun

After he lost his job three months ago, Moon, 44, visited the Korea Employment Information Service in Seoul’s Mapo District to apply for unemployment benefits and receive his accrued pay and severance.

But Moon was redirected to the KEIS office in Jung District for everything but his unemployment benefits because his former employer was not under the Mapo branch’s jurisdiction.

Then he had to go back to his former employer to get a certificate confirming his employment and pay a visit to the tax office for other required documents, even though he had just done so to apply for his unemployment benefits. After running around the city, he was finally able to go back to the KEIS office in Jung District to get his accrued pay and severance.

“I’ve asked officials at each place why I had to visit these centers separately because they apparently do the same tasks, but no one could answer my question,” Moon said angrily.

With the national government, spurred by public demands, implementing more social welfare programs, more beneficiaries are experiencing the government’s complicated welfare bureaucracy first hand.

The national government currently runs 289 welfare programs developed and operated by 16 different government agencies, which also delegate some of their responsibilities to local governments, according to an official from the Jongno District Office.

Services for the disabled and low-income are run by local community centers and district offices, while employment services are overseen by KEIS centers. Low-income housing programs, meanwhile, are under the jurisdiction of LH Corporation, the country’s state-run developer.

Many experts say government agencies have created too many welfare programs without coordinating, causing confusion for both the intended beneficiaries and the agencies themselves, which are oftentimes unaware of other agencies’ projects.

“It’s hard to know about all of the government’s welfare programs,” the Jongno District Office official told the JoongAng Ilbo. “We know about programs run by the Ministry of Health and Welfare, but we can’t say that we’re fully informed about other agencies’ welfare programs.”

The government’s complicated structure for implementing welfare policies is also wasting taxpayer money by causing inefficiencies, some say.

“The government should consolidate the national government agencies’ welfare programs into one place for better efficiency,” said Professor Han Hye-bin from Seoul Theological University’s Department of Social Welfare. “In order to do that, it should establish a central control tower that can control the entire government’s welfare policies.”

After finally applying for unemployment benefits, severance and accrued payroll, Moon tried in vain to find a free education program for his 17-year-old daughter from both a local district office and the KEIS center in Mapo because he could no longer afford her hagwon costs.

“I heard the government had recently expanded its free education programs for children from low-income families but I couldn’t find one,” Moon said. He said that he later found a free math program run by Sogang University students in his neighborhood.

For Ji Hyun-suk, 57, who is unemployed and recently had brain surgery, the government’s bureaucratic red tape has forced her to go without heat because of a broken heating system and with a leaking roof. A resident of Seoul’s Dongjak District, Ji visited several local government offices for help, but staff at each place told her to go talk to her landlord instead.

“They told me to provide mountains of documents that I can’t [provide] and understand,” Ji said.

But aside from the bureaucratic red tape, experts say that the government’s uncoordinated welfare policies have also created redundancies.

One 60-year-old welfare recipient, surnamed Park, receives benefits from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and also from the Community Chest of Korea, a government-supported charity organization.

The ministry said there were a total of 49 people who receive double the welfare support from various government agencies and charity groups like Park because of redundancies in the system.

By Special Reporting Team [sakwon80@joongang.co.kr]
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