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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 31)

All News 06:54 March 31, 2020

Disaster relief money
Time to stabilize people's livelihoods, boost consumption

The Moon Jae-in administration has decided to provide "emergency disaster relief money" to 70 percent of the nation's households to help them ride out the economic difficulties arising from the coronavirus pandemic. This decision is inevitable to help cushion the shock of the virus outbreak.

President Moon announced the disaster relief plan during the third Emergency Economic Council meeting at Cheong Wa Dae, Monday. Under the plan, 1 million won ($820) will be given to a four-person household, whose gross monthly income is below 7.12 million won, or 150 percent of the average median income. A household with three persons will be given 800,000 won, while 600,000 won and 400,000 won will be offered to a two-member household and a single person household, respectively.

The relief money will be given to about 14 million households, or 35 million people. The remaining 30 percent of households will not get the money because they are well-to-do. This might raise the issue of fairness as relatively high income earners are included among the eligible beneficiaries of the aid. That is why President Moon said the decision was not easy to make.

However, Moon said the people deserve the relief money for their difficulties participating in social distancing and quarantine measures in the face of the rapid spread of COVID-19. He added that the cash provision was required to "console" and "cheer up" the people. The measure came after Moon announced an economic rescue package worth 100 trillion won last week to keep struggling businesses afloat and prevent the economy from collapsing amid fears of a global recession.

Now the central government and local authorities should work together to finance the aid package. The government plans to mobilize 7.1 trillion won by drawing up a supplementary budget bill. The remaining 2 trillion won will be paid by provincial and municipal governments.

The Moon administration and the ruling Democratic Party of Korea also must promote bipartisanship with the opposition parties to ensure the speedy passage of the budget bill through the National Assembly. The bill is expected to be presented to the Assembly soon after the April 15 general election.

The conservative main opposition United Future Party and other splinter parties should not try to politicize the aid program. They have so far opposed providing direct cash payments to people, arguing that this was is a populism-based policy ahead of the election to woo voters. They have also expressed worries about the soaring budget deficit which undermines fiscal soundness.

The opposition's argument is somewhat understandable. But considering the aggravating coronavirus crisis and its economic damage, more radical measures are required to stem the spread of the virus and overcome its fallout. Various relief measures should be offered for hard-hit businesses and individuals, including small business owners and the self-employed.

So it is the time to end any wasteful political and ideological debate over the cash provision. Rather, the rival parties need to pool their wisdom to make sure that the support program will be effectively executed so as to stabilize people's livelihoods and help boost consumption.

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