Clear the standardsThe Moon Jae-in administration’s standards for doling out up to 1 million won ($810) in emergency relief to families struggling through the coronavirus outbreak is drawing public resistance. The government decided to give the money to the bottom 70 percent income group. But the idea is under attack because the government based the handouts on the public health insurance fees paid by people in May 2018 — nearly two years before the outbreak of the novel virus.
The government has only deepened the confusion by not coming up with detailed standards for the handouts except the broad principle that it will exclude people with large amounts of assets. For instance, senior citizens with no incomes but who own high-priced houses are not eligible for the benefits, while those with extra incomes can get the money if the amount does not exceed 20 million won a year — simply because it is difficult to verify their extra incomes quickly.
Another disparity stems from the government’s decision to extend the relief to civil servants and employees of public corporations. The emergency fund is aimed at helping people in the lower income brackets, but government employees or those working for public entities don’t have to worry about losing jobs or a reduction in their salaries. The public is already under stress to pay more taxes after the Moon administration drastically increased the number of civil servants since taking office in 2017.
If the administration increases the number of civil servants by 174,000 as Moon promised to do until he steps down in May 2022, it calls for a whopping 327-trillion-won budget over the next 30 years. The deficit in the civil servants pension has been compensated for by trillions of won in taxes. If the government pushes a plan to dole out emergency relief to civil servants, it will face a strong backlash from the public.
The government cannot avoid suspicion that its cash handouts are meant to win more votes in the April 15 parliamentary elections. The government says that the local government did not exclude civil servants in their emergency relief. The government also says it cannot exclude civil servants given their tough battle against the infection. Maybe it would be better to offer the money to all people regardless of their incomes, because all Koreans are suffering from the outbreak.
The government is wasting precious time and energy dividing the people into groups. If it relies on a rule of thumb to spend the money, it can never be spent efficiently. The government must set the standards first before handing out money.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 6, Page 30