(ATTN: UPDATES with details of Cabinet approval in paras 9-10)
SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- The National Assembly on Thursday approved an extra budget worth nearly 15 trillion-won (US$13.2 billion) to help prop up small merchants and the vulnerable hit hard by the yearlong COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill's passage enables the country's fourth round of emergency relief assistance since the first case of the new coronavirus was confirmed in South Korea in January last year. The latest aid package, which will selectively benefit small business owners, the jobless and other vulnerable people, amounts to 20.7 trillion won in total.
The parliament advanced the supplementary budget bill through a plenary session in a 242-6 vote, with 11 abstentions.
Nearly 10 trillion won of the approved extra budget will be financed by issuing government bonds, with the rest to be assigned from the national budget.
A big chunk of the new supplementary budget, at 7.3 trillion won, was allotted for small businesses and the self-employed who suffered falling sales due to high-level social distancing guidelines, including those in the travel and performing art sectors.
Up to 5 million won will be provided to each small merchant reeling from the economic aftermath of the pandemic. Some 1.15 million small merchants will also have their electric charges exempted by up to 50 percent for a three-month period under the benefits of the extra budget.
Another 4.2 trillion won of the budget will cover the costs of the national COVID-19 vaccination program, including vaccine purchases.
The rest will be spent to help subcontract workers, freelancers and other vulnerable employees ride out the employment crunch in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government held a special Cabinet session later in the day and approved the extra-budget bill. The government plans to distribute the new round of relief assistance starting Monday.
"We must provide sufficient support to those hit hard by COVID-19, minimize blind spots in terms of aid provision and implement effective measures to speed up the recovery of the economy and people's livelihoods," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during the Cabinet meeting.
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