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(2nd LD) More pandemic-hit shopowners may be eligible for relief funds

Economy 17:24 February 16, 2021

(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more details throughout; ADDS photo)

SEOUL, Feb. 16 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's finance minister said Tuesday the government is considering expanding the scope of recipients of another round of emergency relief funds under review in a bid to further support smaller merchants hit hard by the pandemic.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki said in a parliamentary session that the government is reviewing assistance to merchants whose yearly sales are less than 1 billion won (US$907,000) as it seeks to draw up an extra budget bill in early March.

"It is too early to confirm details, but the government is considering raising the threshold in gauging the recipients," Hong said.

His remarks indicate that almost all small merchants who have suffered sales decline could be beneficiaries of the fourth round of COVID-19 pandemic relief handouts.

This photo, taken Jan. 29, 2021, shows a sign at a shop in Seoul's shopping district of Myeongdong that announces a business closure over the COVID-19 pandemic. (Yonhap)

Last year, the country offered three rounds of pandemic relief funds worth 31.4 trillion won, including stimulus checks, worth a total of 14.3 trillion won, for all households doled out in May.

In 2020, the nation drew up supplementary budgets four times totaling 67 trillion won to cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic.

The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the finance ministry are in consultations over the size of this year's first extra budget, which may amount to at least 12 trillion won.

Hong dismissed media speculation that the size of the supplementary budget may top 30 trillion won.

The top economic policymaker said the government would begin to provide the relief aid next month.

"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.

The DP initially sought to provide both targeted support and universal stimulus checks but switched its strategy to selective support for the fourth round of relief funds.

"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.

Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki (L) speaks at a parliamentary session on Feb. 16, 2021. (Yonhap)

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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