Pass the basic pension bill today

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Pass the basic pension bill today

The Saenuri Party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy and the Ministry of Health and Welfare will meet today to narrow their differences on the basic pension plan, a core campaign pledge by President Park Geun-hye. The parties already missed one deadline on March 11 despite the government’s promise in July to move quickly. The basic pension covers citizens over the age of 65 and in the lower 70 percent income bracket. The three parties must agree quickly so the needy can be helped.

The living conditions of senior citizens in Korea are not promising. Their poverty rate of 49.3 percent is three times higher than the OECD average; about 1.5 million are struggling to survive with no income. Even though about 80 percent of potential recipients are living below the poverty line, they are not eligible for the basic pension because they have children to support them, at least in theory. But many of them eke out a living on a tiny income from collecting and selling waste paper and can’t go to the hospital when they are sick. An allowance of 200,000 won ($188) a month is not small to them.

No answer is perfect. The New Politics Alliance for Democracy needs to change its proposal for a universal payment of the pension to a graduated payment system. If it does so, it can get credit for being responsible and taking our fiscal health into account. That is also compatible with the image of a party that prioritizes people’s livelihoods above all. Ahn Cheol-soo, co-chairman of the new party and a member of the Health and Welfare Committee at the National Assembly, must feel a strong sense of responsibility about the issue.

The Saenuri Party and the government argue that the basic pension must be doled out according to the amount of national pension payments a senior citizen receives, because the government coffers would otherwise run out of money after 40 or 50 years. Yet the ruling party says the government can expand the scope of allowable income from the current 70 percent to 75 percent. Saving money on one hand and fiddling with a more expensive plan on the other doesn’t make sense. If the ruling party cannot handle this, the Blue House must step forward. We urge the parties to make concessions so the basic pension program can start as scheduled. Voters will remember the names of the members of the consultative meeting.

JoongAng Ilbo, March 31, Page 30

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