(ATTN: UPDATES with briefing by party spokesman throughout)
SEOUL, Feb. 28 (Yonhap) -- The ruling Democratic Party (DP) and the government agreed Sunday to allot 19.5 trillion won (US$17.3 billion) for the country's fourth round of COVID-19 relief assistance.
The agreement was made during a tripartite meeting of the DP, the government and Cheong Wa Dae, attended by DP Chairman Rep. Lee Nak-yon, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun and Kim Sang-jo, the presidential chief of staff for policy.
The upcoming aid package will be funded by an extra budget bill worth 15 trillion won, with the remaining 4.5 trillion won to be assigned from the 2021 state budget, according to DP spokesman Rep. Huh Young.
After pushing the budget bill through a Cabinet meeting on Tuesday, the government is planning to submit it to the National Assembly on Thursday for final approval.
For its part, the ruling party is planning to expedite the bill's passage by the National Assembly, so that the new relief funds can be distributed as early as late March, according to the party spokesman.
"Having increased the amount of benefit money, (the fourth round of relief funds) will be provided in a beefier and more extensive manner," DP Chairman Lee noted, adding that 2 million more people may benefit from the upcoming assistance compared with the past.
"(I) couldn't help thinking about the level of increase in sovereign debts, which will burden the next generations, but the party and the government agreed that recovering the livelihood of people (of today) needs to be the top priority," Prime Minister Chung noted.
According to the DP chairman, the upcoming aid package has been designed to benefit a broader range of small businesses and self-employed people who closed or cut down business operations due to the state's social distancing orders.
The party spokesman added that the upcoming extra spending bill has three pillars -- emergency relief assistance to small businesses and other vulnerable people, emergency employment measures and antivirus plans.
The relief assistance, in particular, will newly include micro businesses with five or more employees as its benefiters as well as businesses with annual sales of less than 1 billion won, an increase from the previous cap of 400 million won, according to Huh.
Under the package, small business owners or self-employed people will also be given up to a 50 percent discount in electric charges for three months, the spokesman said.
The costs for the national COVID-19 vaccination program, including those for vaccine purchases, will be covered by the upcoming extra spending bill, Huh added.
Through the previous three rounds of COVID-19 relief funds, South Korea has distributed a total of 31.4 trillion won to small businesses and other vulnerable people hit by the brunt of the pandemic. This also included a total of 14.3 trillion won worth of stimulus checks given to all households in May.
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