Vulnerable class firstInfectious diseases always hit vulnerable people and businesses first. After an alarming spike in new Covid-19 cases, restaurants and other businesses — in which human contact is unavoidable — have been directly affected by an increasing number of customers who canceled planned events after the Moon Jae-in administration toughened social distancing from Sunday.
As a result, many restaurants across the country are cutting their work hours or shutting down. A glimmer of hope for an economic rebound thanks to the country’s relatively effective quarantine and disinfection activities has suddenly dimmed, pushing the socially weak into a newly vulnerable corner.
In reaction, political circles have jump-started discussions on doling out emergency disaster relief to the people as they did earlier. We welcome it. Recently announced statistics clearly show the outbreak’s impact on the livelihoods of the poor. With an overall reduction in household incomes, the earned incomes of the lowest income group — comprised of daily laborers and the self-employed — recorded a double-digit contraction. More worrisome is the prospect of a worsened economic situation for the socially weak class down the road.
The problem is who should receive such emergency relief. Korean society went through an extreme conflict over who should received the aid after the first outbreak of the virus in February. Despite a lively debate, the entire population got checks ahead of nationwide parliamentary elections in April. The repercussions of that populist handout are strong. We worry about the rapid deterioration of our fiscal health after three rounds of supplementary budgets, which led to a whopping 111 trillion won ($93.3 billion) deficit for the government in the first half of the year alone.
Given such circumstances, the government must consider providing new relief checks only to those in need. Fortunately, the elections are over. In a promising sign, the government, ruling party and Blue House are leaning toward selective aid to the mid- and lower-income class. It seems appropriate for the government to offer emergency relief to the lower 50 percent income group, as was suggested in the first round of relief in May. The government can choose the recipients based on the amount of national health insurance premium paid by the people, as before. But it will deepen our fiscal debt further as it calls for a fourth supplementary budget. Luckily, opposition leader Kim Chong-in is positive about the need for another supplementary budget. (Actually, he first mentioned the need for another supplementary budget.) As a consensus is forming, the government and National Assembly must provide the money to those in need swiftly.