Subsidy sparks regional discord

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Subsidy sparks regional discord

Twenty-six-year-old Mr. Kwon of Jecheon, North Chungcheong, has been living the past seven years in one-room rental apartments in Seoul. He deferred his graduation for the third time this year because he’s still having a hard time finding a job in the city.

With his 2 million won ($1,803) savings beginning to thin out, hearing that the Seoul city government was supporting unemployed young adults with cash allowance sounded too good to be true for Kwon.

And it was.

“The city government only supports those who have lived in the city more than a year,” Kwon says, “and only those who can prove it. I delayed registering my residence to Seoul all these years, and now I don’t qualify for the subsidy program.”

He adds, “My stomach lurches every time I see posts online by people who received the money, saying it’s a free-for-all deal. The system feels like some sort of lottery event, where only the lucky ones get some.”

The Seoul city government on Aug. 3 distributed the first cash allowance to the 2,831 recipients who signed agreements with the government. Each recipient received half a million won.

The payments are part of a five-year program called the Seoul Youth Guarantee, intended to support unemployed and underemployed young adults. The city set aside some 9 billion won to provide 3,000 recipients with 500,000 won per month for up to six months.

Kwon is not the only person left out of the program.

A 27-year-old senior in college surnamed Yoon lives in Gwanak District of southern Seoul. After finishing the year’s first semester, he submitted a leave of absence to his university in order to start preparing for the national civil service test, or gosi in Korean.

Every month Yoon pays 600,000 won for his gosi cram school and spends about 300,000 won on food. His family income cannot cover his costs and Yoon is left to find part-time jobs on the side to continue studying for the exam.

“Only those who graduated from university or are in their last semester before graduation are allowed to apply for the Seoul city government subsidy,” Yoon says. “So people like me, who have technically not started the second semester of their senior year, are excluded.”

He adds, “How absurd is that?”

Meanwhile, the outcry against the city program to subsidize 3,000 unemployed or underemployed young adults is taking off online.

“I want to know what standards the city government used in deciding its picks,” reads a message posted by user 72-keut on SNULife, a website run by Seoul National University students. “Really, it’s just a lottery.”

The youth subsidy program may even be inciting regional discord.

“I have difficulty coming to terms with why a welfare program is only available for people in certain regions,” says Kim Mi-kyung, a 25-year-old from North Jeolla preparing for the civil service exam in Noryangjin-dong of southern Seoul, a hub for cram schools and cheap apartments for those studying for exams. “Plus, who knows what these people are using the money for?”

According to a survey by civic groups the Citizens United for Better Society and Young Tomorrow, 79 percent of 504 young adults said the youth subsidy program “is a regionally discriminating policy because it is only offered to young adults in Seoul.”

“The city government started the youth subsidy program with good intentions,” says Jung Kwang-ho, professor of public administration at the Seoul National University. “But it hasn’t been going very well because it only offers cash to a certain group of people.” He adds, “It’s always best for a welfare program to include everyone under uniform standards.”

The Ministry of Health and Welfare shut the program down a day after the city government handed out cash to the recipients, saying the welfare initiative is illegal without the ministry’s approval, which the ministry will not give because doling out cash to young adults in Seoul is not only “immoral” but also a regionally discriminating policy.

BY CHO HAN-DAE, SEO JUN-SUK [chung.juhee@joongang.co.kr]

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