Stop the experimentThe government-proposed 34.9-trillion-won ($30.3 billion) supplementary budget bill passed in the National Assembly Saturday to give 250,000 won to each individual of the lower 88 percent income brackets after a heated debate over the scope of the recipients of the relief grants. But the government did not give any clear explanation about why the remaining 12 percent is not eligible for the handouts. Controversy continues to deepen after President Moon Jae-in in February promised to dole out the money to help the pandemic-stricken people “when the crisis is over.”
First of all, we wonder if a considerable share of the recipients really qualify for the “disaster relief grants.” In the beginning, the Ministry of Strategy and Finance planned to offer the grants to the lower 50 percent or 70 percent income group. But after confirming the sweet effect of handouts in the parliamentary elections last year, the ruling Democratic Party (DP) has kept raising the ceiling to the point of 88 percent. After facing strong criticism about its standard for the 80 percent ceiling earlier, the DP added 1.78 million dual-earner households and single-person households to the category. That’s how the DP has reached the ambiguous upper limit of 88 percent — not universal nor selective.
The unequivocal standard only exacerbates the hardship of the poor. The new relief scheme allows a family of four with dual income to receive the grants if their combined annual income is lower than 124.36 million won, or if their certified home price is lower than 1.5 billion won. Can the government afford such hefty grants to the affluent? If 250,000 won is given to every citizen regardless of their wealth, it only helps fuel disparity.
The efficacy of the fifth relief package also decreases. Analysis by the Korea Development Institute, a state-run think tank, showed that the government’s first disaster relief grants, albeit universal, achieved only 30 percent of the desired effect. The fifth round of relief grants based on populism are destined to reap such results this time, too.
After the Moon administration repeatedly drew up a supplementary budget for disaster relief, government debt has swelled by 100 trillion won since last year. In the meantime, the vulnerable class suffers more due to a lack of substantial financial help. Even an expanded compensation package for small merchants does not help due to stricter social distancing rules.
Presidential candidates from the DP are sharply divided over the confusing relief grants. Such an internal fission could have been averted if the government had focused on the people in need from the start. It must stop this obfuscating experiment with relief grants immediately.