24 Seoul districts rebel on day care
The heads of 24 out of Seoul’s 25 district offices announced yesterday they can’t afford to expand day care for poorer kids next year, as the city government has planned, and will not do so out of their budgets.
“Unless the government increases its support, we will not be able to cover the additional expense of 93 billion won [$85.4 million] in next year’s budgets for child care,” declared the district offices in a joint statement at a press conference at City Hall in central Seoul.
The only district that didn’t join the group was wealthy Gangnam.
The districts have been bleeding money from the welfare program ever since free day care was offered for toddlers under 24 months from all families in March. The budget strain was so much that in September, they excluded from the program families from the top 30 percent of income groups.
Over the summer, Seoul’s district offices warned that they were hitting the bottom of their coffers for day care.
On Jan. 1, free day care was supposed to be offered to kids from 3 to 5 years of age from families in the bottom 70 percent of income groups.
The district heads said that the expansion would cost an additional 93 billion won in total for 2013. Instead, they said they would allocate the same amount of money as they spent this year, 247 billion won, for day care.
The three main presidential candidates - Park Geun-hye of the ruling Saenuri Party, Moon Jae-in of the opposition Democratic United Party and independent Ahn Cheol-soo - have all pledged to continue the free day care as part of their election platforms. Welfare benefits are one of the key issues in the Dec. 19 presidential election, and candidates have proposed expanding many programs, including the basic pension plan for seniors.
“The average tax revenue of the district offices decreased in the past three years by 0.59 percent,” the district heads said, “but expenditures on social welfare increased by 34.6 percent.” The districts, on average, spend 46.1 percent of their total budgets on social welfare programs.
The district heads added, “The national government, without consulting with the district offices, arbitrarily pushed its child care policies and caused bankruptcies at the local level.”
The Ministry of Health and Welfare passed a revision to its day care policy under which, if approved by the National Assembly, starting in March 2013, households in the lower 70 percent income bracket - regardless of whether they send their toddlers to day care centers or not - will receive between 100,000 won and 200,000 won in cash per month for child support, depending on the toddler’s age. Lower-income families with children from ages 3 to 5 not enrolled in public day care will also receive 100,000 won.
How those expenses will be paid is unclear.
The district heads want the national government to pay more for day care. Currently, the government supports 20 percent of the cost of day care in Seoul and 50 percent for other local governments. They want that to increase to 50 percent in Seoul and 80 percent outside of Seoul.
Currently, the district offices bear 50.6 percent of the cost of day care. The rest of the cost is paid by the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the national government.
“Realistically speaking, the estimated budget for child care is not feasible, and in the first half of next year, the budget will be exhausted,” stated Kim Young-bae, Seongbuk District head.”
By Sarah Kim, Shin Sung-sik [email@example.com]
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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