Money for day care running outKim Se-eun, a 26-year-old mother in Dongdaemun District, eastern Seoul, has two sons aged 11 months and 33 months. To help the family afford day care for the kids, the government gives Kim 680,000 won ($610) every month.
But Kim has seen stories in the media about the day care budget drying up and she’s worried her payments will stop next month.
“I think I’ll have to find a part-time job if the program is stopped,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo.
After a free-spending five months, Seoul’s experiment with free day care for all children under 5 seems to be unraveling.
According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government, total day care spending for the city for the year will be 1.06 trillion won. But the city only has 694.8 billion won to spend, which was depleted this month.
Of that 694.8 billion won, 264.4 billion won was provided by the city government, while local district offices provided 123.1 billion won. The central government chipped in 307.3 billion won.
The central government has told the city it can give an additional 135.5 billion won - but only if the city and its 25 local district offices pony up the remaining 235.3 billion won needed through a supplemental budget.
“We can provide additional support only after the city government promises to create a supplementary budget for day care programs,” the Ministry of Health and Welfare said in June.
Some of Seoul’s district offices have created supplementary budgets to keep the day care going because they’re looking ahead to next June’s local elections. They know that day care is a serious subject for voters.
But Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon has refused the government’s offer. His position is that the national government should pay a greater percentage of the day care costs, and he cites President Park Geun-hye’s campaign promises before last December’s election to prove his point.
The mayor has gone so far as to run audio and video advertisements on 350 intracity bus lines and paid for a poster campaign in stations on four subway lines appealing to the president for more funds for day care.
As of now, the city government pays 80 percent of the cost of day care programs with local district offices and the central government paying the rest. Park wants the central government to pay 40 percent of the costs.
The coming conflict was easy to see. In March, all parties agreed to expand the previous day care policy to cover all children under five years old. Day care was previously only paid for children who were under 3 years old and for 5-year-olds.
But they didn’t adjust the ratio of sharing expenses among the city, which is controlled by the liberals, and the central government, which is controlled by the conservative Saenuri Party, ideological and political adversaries. In March, a bill allowing the central government to subsidize more day care costs was submitted to the National Assembly, but it’s stuck in committee.
City council members from the Saenuri Party are criticizing Mayor Park’s stubbornness.
“It’s nonsense for the mayor to say he worries about the city’s lack of funds while he refuses to take necessary action [creating a supplementary budget],” Kim Sung-tae, a city council member from the ruling party said yesterday on CBS radio. “He’s trying to shift responsibility for the possible failure of the program to the central government ahead of the elections. I suggest Mayor Park hold an open debate and ask citizens who is really to blame for this problem.”
Local district offices are finding their own ways to survive. Seocho, Gangnam, Jung, Jongno and Guro districts have received additional subsidies from the central government after creating supplementary budgets averaging 2.6 billion won. Other districts including Songpa, Yangcheon, Jungnang, Gangbuk, Gangseo and Seodaemun are considering supplementary budgets.
“The problem is that creating a supplementary budget is only a temporary solution because the city government still has to pay most of the expenses for the programs,” No Hyeon-song, head of the Gangseo District Office said.
Kim Myung-soo, chairman of the city council, urged the national government to pay a greater portion of the expenses and to help get the stalled bill through the National Assembly. “The central government should try its best,” he said.
“I can’t understand why these politicians decided to expand the program without any solutions to fund it,” said Mr. Lee, 51, head of a private child day care center.
The city government is considering spending its 90 billion won in reserve funds, which is supposed to be held for emergencies, on day care.
BY KANG KI-HEON, KWON SANG-SOO [email@example.com]