Listen to district heads’ complaintsThe heads of 24 out of Seoul’s 25 district offices announced 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. 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 for all families in March. The budget strain was so excessive that in September, they excluded families from the top 30 percent of income groups from the program. Of the 24 district heads, 19 are affiliated with the main opposition Democratic United Party and five to the ruling Saenuri Party. District governments clearly proclaimed they no longer can afford further funding for free welfare programs.
Yet politicians pay little heed to the realities and the legislative plans to expand funding for day care centers for all toddlers under 5 from next year. This is instead of the current plan under which families from the lower 70 percent income bracket receive free day care starting in January. Leading presidential candidates Park Geun-hye, Moon Jae-in and Ahn Cheol-soo all promise free day care for all toddlers under preschool age. Moreover, the government plans to provide separate child care allowances for families with toddlers. City district governments already running out of money decided to go against their party platforms to exclude extra costs for child care from next year’s budgets, saying they could all go bankrupt if they follow the order.
The district and municipal governments could only sustain the program of subsidizing day care service for toddlers under 2. The program started in March of this year after it received extra funding from the central government because they soon ran out of money. The local governments are demanding the central government pay in full for the program because it disturbs their appropriations. The case underscores that no social welfare benefits are possible without clear and viable budgeting.
Presidential candidates have been trotting out various social welfare plans but explain little about how they will finance them. Regardless of who is elected, the incoming government will run up a deficit with spending on programs like free day care. Politicians and presidential candidates should pay heed to the voices of the district heads. They also must specify where the funding for welfare spending will come from. They should stop pretending to play Robin Hood, determined to get money from the rich and distribute to the poor. Promises on welfare benefits without financing plans are lies and will put this country in a fiscal hole.