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S. Korea to dole out relief cash fund based on health insurance

Government to provide W1m to bottom 70 percent by income, prompts criticism by alienating foreigners in the benefits

Vice Interior Minister Yoon Jong-in, right, explain the government’s emergency cash payment plan during a press briefing held at the Sejong government complex on Friday. (Yonhap)
Vice Interior Minister Yoon Jong-in, right, explain the government’s emergency cash payment plan during a press briefing held at the Sejong government complex on Friday. (Yonhap)

The government decided Friday to make emergency cash payments to households in the bottom 70 percent income bracket, financially hit by the novel coronavirus, by using March health insurance premiums as key standard.

The temporary, yet controversial scheme will provide 1 million won ($814) each to four-person households with salaried workers that paid March premiums below 237,000 won, according to the government.

Though the households’ March insurance payments stand as a common standard, the number of salaried workers, self-employment and the size of the household itself will also determine the payments. The types of insurance they subscribe to will be considered as well.

For small business owners and the self-employed who are financially struggling, but whose insurance payments have yet to reflect their situation, local governments across the country plan to come up with measures to determine eligibility.

Foreign nationals will not be eligible for the payments, the government said.

The government’s announcement follows President Moon Jae-in’s decision last month to make emergency cash payments of up to 1 million won per household, to the bottom 70 percent by income. The disaster relief payment, largely viewed as a basic income scheme, is projected to cost the government a total of 9.1 trillion won and about 14 million households are estimated to receive it.

Officials said earlier this week it will push for a second supplementary budget of 7.1 trillion won, which will come in addition to the 11.7 trillion won extra budget it secured in mid-March.

The disaster relief payment has sparked controversy among experts and the public alike, due to the debatable nature of the program itself - which has been carried out in a slew of economies under the basic income program - coupled with the government’s ambiguous standards on determining potential beneficiaries.

Foreign nationals have been largely neglected in the process leading up to Friday’s announcement, despite also paying tax. Most of regional governments offering smaller scale relief payments, have also failed to consider foreign residents as beneficiaries.

On Thursday, around 62 civic groups staged a protest outside the National Human Rights Commission of Korea headquarters in central Seoul, accusing the government of violating human rights by neglecting foreigners and foreign workers here in the designing the relief payment program. 

By Jung Min-kyung (mkjung@heraldcorp.com)
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