Gov’t to give free day care for all Korean toddlers

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Gov’t to give free day care for all Korean toddlers

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The government is vastly expanding its welfare benefits for families with toddlers.

Following the government’s Nuri Program, which provided free kindergarten for all five-year-olds and day care for kids under 24 months from this year, the government decided to expand the program to three- and four-year-olds starting in 2013. All families will get vouchers for the free day care regardless of their incomes.

And cash subsidies for families with young children are also being expanded. Currently, families in the bottom 15 percent of income levels get monthly cash bonuses for each child under 24 months of age.

Starting in 2013, the subsidies will be given to families in the bottom 70 percent of income levels.

The Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of Strategy and Finance, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Ministry of Public Administration and Security, and Ministry of Health and Welfare held a joint press briefing yesterday at the Government Complex building in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, and announced that the current program of providing free kindergarten or day care to all five-year-olds and kids under 24 months will be extended to cover three- and four-year-olds as well. Currently, day care for three- and four-year-olds is free only for families in the bottom 70 percent of income levels.

According to the ministries, the measure is a follow-up to President Lee Myung-bak’s New Year’s address this month in which he said, “Child care is an investment for the future.”

The free day care and kindergartens are paid for in monthly cash vouchers given for each child. The scale is: 755,000 won ($660) for children under 12 months; 347,000 won for 12-24 months; and 286,000 won for 24-36 months. Those amounts won’t be raised. Eligible families with three-year-olds currently receive a voucher worth 197,000 won per month, families with four-year-olds receive 177,000 won and families with five-year-olds receive 200,000 won. From next year, all families with children aged between three and five will receive 220,000 won, and the amount will rise to 240,000 won in 2014, 270,000 won in 2015 and 300,000 won in 2016.

If 70 percent of Korean families receive the child care subsidy from next year, it will cover about 641,000 children, up from the current 96,000, which means families from both the lower income brackets as well as the middle class will receive state funds, according to the ministries.

As for the monthly cash subsidies for children under 24 months, they will be given to 70 percent of Korean families compared to only the bottom 15 percent income levels currently. The subsidies are 100,000 won to 200,000 won per month.

Minister of Strategy and Finance Bahk Jae-wan explained that the government decided to concentrate on providing more benefits to families that send their children to day care centers and preschools than families that raise children at home in an attempt to “bring mothers with work experience back to the workplace.” Bahk said, “With a limited budget, it was inevitable to select priorities.”

The ministries said that the budget for providing free child care for three-and four-year-olds will be taken from the national budget, local government budgets and also from money given by the national government to local governments for education.

From 2015, the budget will be taken from the money given to the local governments from the national government.

To allay concerns that local governments won’t be able to afford the new welfare measures, Bahk said, “The financial grants for local education from the national government have been increasing by an average of 6.1 percent annually for the past five years. On the other side, the number of children that need to attend day care centers or preschools has been decreasing, so we believe we have capability [to expand the benefits].”



By Yim Seung-hye [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

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