(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in last 2 paras)
SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's finance minister said Tuesday the government is seeking to submit an extra budget bill in early March in a bid to provide targeted support to merchants and businesses hit hard by the pandemic.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said in a parliamentary session that the country is considering expanding the recipients of the fourth round of emergency relief funds, including to merchants whose yearly sales top 400 million won (US$364,000).
"We are reviewing ways to provide additional support to the sector battered by the pandemic. We've been working on details with a goal of submitting an extra budget proposal in early March," Hong said.
Last year, the country drew up supplementary budgets four times totaling 67 trillion won to cope with the fallout of the pandemic. It provided three rounds of emergency relief funds worth 31.4 trillion won, including stimulus checks of 14.3 trillion won for all households doled out in May.
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the finance ministry are in consultations over the size of the extra budget, with some DP members reportedly claiming it should be at least 15 trillion won.
Hong dismissed media speculation that the size of the supplementary budget may top 30 trillion won.
The DP initially sought to provide both targeted support and universal stimulus checks but switched its strategy to selective support for the potential fourth round of relief funds.
The finance minister said the government is exploring ways to expand the recipients of more relief funds in a bid to "massively" assist the sectors hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
"The government will closely review how much we can cover any blind spots," Hong said, when asked if the ministry is considering supporting street vendors and platform workers.
On a push to legislate a state scheme to compensate business losses caused by the pandemic, Hong said the government may be able to draw up the related bill next month.
President Moon Jae-in instructed officials in January to explore ways to compensate smaller merchants and shop owners for losses incurred by virus curbs designed to fight the new coronavirus outbreak.
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