Ruling party wants to expand relief to all

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Ruling party wants to expand relief to all


Citizens in Daegu queue up at a welfare center in Suseong District, Daegu, on Monday to apply for emergency relief funds to overcome the hardships caused by the coronavirus outbreak. [NEWS1]

The ruling party on Monday urged the government to pay emergency coronavirus relief to all families, as complaints snowball about President Moon Jae-in’s plan on the eve of the general elections.

“It is important to show that the government is protecting all people, regardless of region or income,” Chairman Lee Hae-chan of the Democratic Party (DP) said Monday in opening remarks at a ruling party campaign committee meeting in Busan. “After the [April 15] general elections, the party will review the issue thoroughly and assure the people that they are all protected by the state.”

On March 30, Moon announced a plan to give some kind of relief to 70 percent of the country’s households — about 14 million families nationwide — to boost domestic consumption in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, the government disclosed a plan to use payments to the state-run health insurance program to decide who was eligible for the relief, presumably households whose monthly income fell in the bottom 70 percent. Up to 1 million won ($813) in regional gift certificates or coupons would be paid to each household, possibly in May.

Voters in the relatively affluent capital region, however, expressed outrage over being possibly left out.

“It is the party’s intention to show that the government protects all citizens of Korea, not just self-employed people, small business owners and the poor class,” Lee said Monday.

Although the government consulted with the DP before releasing its emergency relief payment plan Friday, Lee was pushing for a major shift in the policy just nine days before the general elections.

Later in the day, more DP officials promoted the idea of paying relief to all. “The DP listened to opinions from various sectors and reached a conclusion that the emergency relief aid must be paid quickly to all the people regardless of their income levels,” Rep. Lee In-young, floor leader of the DP, said on Facebook. “That is why Chairman Lee made the remarks this morning, and the party has reached a consensus.”

Rep. Lee said the ruling party will consult with opposition politicians on paying allowances to all, once the government submits a supplementary budget bill. “If the ruling and opposition parties reach an agreement, I believe the government will accept it without reservation,” he said.

Rep. Kang Hoon-sik, spokesman for the DP, also promoted the idea. “Chairman Hwang Kyo-ahn of the United Future Party [UFP] has also proposed to pay relief to all,” Kang said. “There is no reason to hesitate or argue. The National Assembly must open a session after the general elections and pass the bill as soon as possible.”

The DP wants to maintain the current policy of paying a maximum equivalent of 1 million won to each household with four or more members. “If we give aid to 100 percent of the people, we need about 13 trillion won in total, about 4 trillion won more than what we had planned,” Kang said.

The ruling party was playing catch-up with a more drastic proposal made by UFP Chairman Hwang on Sunday that the government pay 500,000 won in cash to every Korean citizen immediately.

“The government plan to select eligible families based on their national health insurance premium amounts failed to reflect the full damage from the outbreak,” Hwang said. “According to the plan, the people don’t even receive immediate cash payments.”

Hwang said all people should be eligible for relief in cash, not gift certificates, and more quickly.

Until recently, the UFP was critical of the DP and the Moon administration for paying relief to many, calling the plan an “attempt to buy votes.” That position was suddenly scrapped as Hwang proposed to pay cash to everyone.

Hwang also urged Moon to issue an order of emergency financial and economic actions to pay the relief more quickly. “The government can come up with the 25 trillion won required for the relief funds by redesigning the 2020 budget plan,” he said.

Later on Monday, other UFP officials, including chief campaign manager Kim Chong-in, supported Hwang’s idea, dismissing criticism that the proposal is a populist campaign pledge.

“We observed the government measures for the past two months since the outbreak started,” the party said in a press release. “The measures were either indecisive or confusing, or urging the people to take out loans. The government announced a ridiculous proposal that it will pay emergency relief allowances to only the bottom 70 percent of households based on health insurance premiums. So, we decided to propose an alternative that all people receive 500,000 won each.”

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