(ATTN: ADDS more details in paras 4, 6, 8-12)
SEOUL, April 3 (Yonhap) -- The government said Friday it will use health insurance premiums as a standard in deciding on the recipients of emergency disaster relief funds as it seeks to help households cope with the economic fallout of the coronavirus outbreak.
In a one-off stimulus program, South Korea plans to offer 1 million won (US$814) to four-person households in the bottom 70 percent income bracket. About 14 million households or 35 million people are expected to be granted the rare aid worth 9.1 trillion won total.
Amid debates over the calculation method for beneficiaries, the government said that health insurance premiums for March will be used to sort out potential recipients for the aid.
South Korea levies health insurance premiums based on an individual's income and the value of property that an individual possesses.
A four-person household can receive the emergency funds in cases where the March premiums paid by salary workers were below 237,000 won. For regional subscribers, the yardstick was 254,000 won.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted the government to prepare for direct payment, widely viewed as basic income, as the protracted crisis has dealt a serious blow to smaller firms and the self-employed, in particular.
But critics said the health insurance fees do not reflect a sharp fall in income caused by the virus outbreak as they are calculated based on income in 2019 or 2018, depending on the scope of subscribers.
The government said it will draw up back-up measures to assist small shop owners and the self-employed who are left out of the recipient pools based on the premiums calculation.
Those who possess high-value assets will be also excluded from the list of beneficiaries even if they belong to the bottom 70 percent income bracket.
The government plans to seek another supplementary budget to finance the massive aid package on top of an 11.7 trillion-won extra budget that was created to fight the new coronavirus.
"It is hard to pinpoint when to provide the emergency aid, but the government will make efforts to grant people the support at an early date," Vice Interior Minister Yoon Jong-in told a press briefing.
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