Big shortfall in day care funding sets off scrambleEmergency discussions at the national and local levels are trying to come up with a remedy for the failing free toddler day care program.
The ruling Saenuri Party announced yesterday that the government plans to allocate an additional 620 billion won ($546.2 million) to the program for this year.
The Ministry of Health and Welfare stated the government allocated 3.8 trillion won in 2012 for day care for children under 2 years of age. Those funds are expected to be depleted in October or November.
Seocho District, after declaring it will run out of money by next Thursday, held an emergency meeting yesterday, stating “there is no plan starting from September” and to provide day care to all children in the district would require 360 more centers.
Local, city and national governments share funding of the program.
The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development recommends that children from birth until age 2 be reared at home and sent to day care from ages 3-5. It emphasizes that intimate contact with youngsters and parents is good and no more than 30 percent of children younger than 2 should be in day care centers.
Nonetheless, the free day care policy for toddlers under age 2 was proposed by the Saenuri Party, passed last December in the National Assembly and implemented in March, despite concerns about the cost. Free day care had previously been based on need.
The plan is scheduled to be expanded to 3- and 4-year-olds next year. Currently, day care for 3- and 4-year-olds is free only for families in the bottom 70 percent of household income.
Following Seocho District, a total of 11 Seoul districts - including Gangnam and Jongno - declared yesterday that their budgets for free day care will run dry by next month. Incheon expects to run out of funds by September, Gwangju by October. South Gyeongsang, North Jeolla, Ulsan, Gangwon, Busan and Daegu expect to run out between September and November. North Gyeongsang says December.
The government estimates at least 800 billion won is needed to salvage the program. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance stated it is likewise evaluating measures to prohibit free day care for children from households in the top 30 percent in terms of income.
But the Saenuri Party still wants to maintain free day care for all.
Some critics say that lawmakers, ahead of the April 11 general elections, acted too hastily in approving the program without thoroughly reviewing the budget.
And with the presidential election in December, the Saenuri Party does not want to backpedal on the free day care program as not to damage its credibility.
“Do children of chaebol families reach 30 percent? Even if there are chaebol children, there are perhaps 10 of them,” Chin Young, Saenuri Party chief policy maker, said yesterday. He called criticism of the program “inappropriate” at a time when cooperation is needed.
But Saenuri Party floor leader Lee Hahn-koo was deeply critical of the program yesterday. “The way the free day care is run is completely different from what the government planned and needs a quick reanalysis,” Lee said. “Nonetheless, there still is no real countermeasure on the floor.”
The Democratic United Party also deeply criticized the free day care program stating that “the government and Saenuri Party brought it on themselves.”
“This crisis could have been foreseen ever since the Saenuri Party passed the free day care program without a budget plan just to compete with the Democratic United Party’s ‘free series’ ahead of the presidential elections,” said Representative Woo Won-shik, the DUP spokesman.
By Sarah Kim, Shin Sung-shik [firstname.lastname@example.org]