Toward ‘customized’ welfareThe New Politics Alliance for Democracy’s (NPAD) floor leader Lee Jong-kul suggested the universal free day care system should be revised so subsidies are handed out according to income levels of families. Free day care for all preschool infants has long taken a toll on central and local government finances. Some local education authorities unilaterally decided to stop paying for the free day care program after running out of money.
The main opposition NPAD said the comment by Lee was his own opinion and does not represent the party’s official stance. But without immediately addressing universal welfare programs, the country’s public finances are headed for a cliff. The main opposition should work with the ruling party to redesign the universal welfare programs - free day care and school lunches - so they can effectively help needy children and families without ruining public finances. The day-care subsidy program is being sustained - barely - by debt after the National Assembly allowed the issuance of 1 trillion won ($899.7 million) in local government bonds. More than 2.6 trillion won was spent last year to provide free lunches to all students across the nation. Because education funds now primarily go for universal programs, urgent renovations, repairs and supply updates at schools have been suspended. Schools and the education environment cannot improve unless the country cuts unnecessary welfare spending, such as all-day care for children who only use the facilities for two to three hours a day or feeding students from rich families.
Campaign promises should be upheld. But at the same time, leaders must not proceed with public policies that jeopardize public finances. State coffers are in worse shape due to the protracted slowing down of the economy. The rival parties must restructure the free welfare programs and pledge not to engage in populist welfare campaign pledges during next year’s general election. The public also must not acknowledge and vote for candidates who try to tempt voters with irresponsible pledges. In doing this, our tax money will be spent well and wisely. JoongAng Ilbo, June 4, Page 30