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(LEAD) Nat'l Assembly passes 16.9 tln-won extra budget bill

All News 21:44 February 21, 2022

(ATTN: UPDATES with more details in paras 3-5, 12)

SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- The National Assembly on Monday passed a 16.9 trillion-won (US$14.2 billion) extra budget bill aimed at mainly supporting pandemic-hit small merchants after weeks of wrangling between rival parties over its size.

The bill passed 203-1 during a plenary parliamentary session with 9 abstentions after the ruling Democratic Party and main opposition People Power Party agreed to add 2.9 trillion won to the 14-trillion won proposed by the government in January.

Under the bill, some 3.3 million small merchants and self-employed people will be entitled to receive 3 million won each in relief money starting Wednesday.

About 2.8 trillion won will be used to compensate restaurants, cafes and other multi-use facilities for their losses incurred by anti-virus measures, with payments scheduled to kick off during the first week of March.

Up to 1 million won per person will also go to taxi and bus drivers, low-income artists or other freelancers in the form of emergency support.

The supplementary budget, this year's first, will also cover the cost of COVID-19 self-test kits for 6 million vulnerable citizens and support freelance workers, artists and people of other occupations that were excluded from past relief programs.

The bill's passage comes two days after the DP unilaterally passed the budget proposal through the parliamentary budget committee, drawing strong protests from the PPP.

Despite what it called procedural flaws, the PPP reversed its position Monday and agreed to cooperate with the ruling party, citing the urgent needs of small merchants.

Critics have expressed concern both parties are using the extra budget to buy votes ahead of the March 9 presidential election.

South Korea drew up two supplementary budgets totaling some 50 trillion won last year to provide tailored support to small merchants and cash handouts to people in the bottom 88 percent income bracket.

In 2020, the country drew up four extra budgets totaling around 67 trillion won to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. In May that year, the government doled out 14.3 trillion won in stimulus checks to all households.

The government plans to approve the extra budget at a Cabinet meeting Tuesday.

Yun Ho-jung (R), floor leader of the ruling Democratic Party, bumps fists with his main opposition People Power Party counterpart, Kim Gi-hyeon, prior to their meeting hosted by National Assembly Speaker Park Byeong-seug (C) over a controversial supplementary budget bill for coronavirus-hit small merchants at Park's office at the National Assembly in Seoul on Feb. 21, 2022. (Pool photo) (Yonhap)

hague@yna.co.kr
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