Reexamine welfare programs
The blame-game over ballooning public financing for free-for-all welfare programs among central and local governments and education district offices is getting dirtier. If both sides stick to their extreme approach, free school meals and day care programs could cease to exist from the beginning of next year because no one will fund them. The programs born out of an intense welfare contest during the 2011 mayoral and gubernatorial and 2012 general and presidential elections could become insolvent after just three years. It is a disastrous fallout from populist policy-making without a funding plan.
The end of the two universal welfare programs was foreseeable. It does not take a genius to figure out that free school meals and day care programs that leave a big hole in the budget can’t last long. In the beginning, there was leeway in the budget and tax revenue for extra spending. But it became impossible last year due to a tax revenue shortage and slowing economic growth.
Local governments declared last year that they could not continue subsidizing day care for infants. Municipal education offices that had been put in charge of financing free day care programs for preschool-aged children refused to do so. In return, local governments threatened to deny subsidies to district education offices to provide free school meals. Without a lasting funding solution, universal welfare programs will shut down. The universal welfare trial has proved a complete failure.
Political parties, local governments and education offices should stop fighting and blaming one another. They must admit to the fundamental downsides of the programs and come up with a workable alternative. The responsibility should collectively fall on the president, political parties and education chiefs. They were the ones who made rosy promises in the first place. Voters also have learned that there is no free lunch.
In order to make welfare programs financially sustainable for local governments and education offices, the funding system must be restructured. Priorities in spending and beneficiaries must be realigned and efficacy in budgetary appropriation must be emphasized. We could change the universal programs to selective ones and adjust subsidies. The government readjusted the basic pension for senior citizens from universal to selective payouts for people with no income or other pension payouts to make the program workable within the current budget. School meals and day care also should be adjusted. There is no need to stick to an all-or-nothing welfare system.
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 10, Page 30
with the Korea JoongAng Daily
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