Welfare isn’t free

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Welfare isn’t free

Enhancing welfare programs without any consideration of how they are going to be funded is causing fissures everywhere. The council of governors from 16 local governments nationwide issued a statement that their budgets cannot support free child care programs for toddlers under two, demanding extra money from the central government. Local governments are threatening to boycott the free child care program unilaterally agreed upon by the government and legislature.

The government initially proposed providing free child care for toddlers under age 2 for families in the lowest 70 percent income bracket. But the legislature revised the program to include all families with toddlers.

The government has appropriated 369.8 billion won ($325.8 million) to subsidize the program, but local governments are claiming they don’t have enough money.

Once the child care program started this year, parents who cared for children at home all sought free day care programs, and local governments expect they will have depleted their budgets by June.

Their financial state will worsen if the benefits extend up to age 4 from next year. The child care program could even send local governments with poor finances into bankruptcy.

However, the bankruptcies can be avoided. If local governments save some of their extra money for renovations on city buildings, they may better afford the free child care.

But even with belt-tightening and rationalization of budgeting, reckless expansion on welfare programs could wreak havoc on finances of local governments. The recent situation underscores the dilemma that local governments would have to cut other budgets or get subsidies from the central government in order to fund new welfare programs.

For instance, in order to fund the planned extension of free school lunches, local governments would have to suspend renovations or upgrade school facilities.

The quality of school meals could also drop due to poor funding. Free school lunches are not provided by generous education superintendents, but from tax money.

Child care and school meals are not free. The cost and harm from increased welfare benefits will only increase. The public must not be gullible and accept politicians’ rosy promises on welfare. At the end of the day, we must all remember that it is taxpayers who foot the final bill.

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