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Distribution of COVID-19 relief funds begins

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)


The government started handing out cash to citizens Monday in order to cushion the economic blow of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

President Moon Jae-in said Monday he expects ”the unprecedented disaster relief payments” to help reinvigorate the economy and console people suffering hardships caused by the dangerous virus.

“The government will do its best to have the emergency disaster relief payments, which would be granted for the first time in history, delivered rapidly and conveniently,” he said at a weekly meeting with senior aides at Cheong Wa Dae.

Roughly 21.71 million households will receive emergency disaster relief through the universal program at a cost of 14.3 trillion won ($11.66 billion).

The government plans to provide 1 million won to households with four or more members, 800,000 won to three-person households, 600,000 won to two-person households and 400,000 won to single-person households.

Some 2.8 million households that belong to vulnerable groups, such as beneficiaries of national basic livelihood security and disability pensions, started receiving funds first.

No visits to public offices or banks are required, and no forms need to be filled out, as the money is transferred to bank accounts they are already using to receive other state subsidies.

Beginning next week, the rest of the nation’s households will get relief in the form of credit or debit card points, regional gift certificates or prepaid cards. The aid will be granted upon request via online and offline platforms.

Online applications for credit or debit card points will begin on May 11 via the websites of card companies. Offline applications can be made at community centers nationwide or at banks affiliated with card companies starting May 18.

The deadline to spend the money is Aug. 31. Regional gift certificates are valid for five years, but the government advised recipients to use them by the end of August.

The emergency relief card points, gift certificates and prepaid cards are designed to be used in recipients’ local communities, and cannot be spent online or at large supermarkets, department stores or entertainment facilities, the Ministry of the Interior and Safety said.

When filling out the application, beneficiaries can “donate” part or all of their subsidies to the state. Those who don’t apply for the relief within three months will be regarded as voluntary donors.

Donations will be injected into the state employment insurance fund, created and run by the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and used for employment stabilization and job skills development programs as well as unemployment benefits.

President Moon cautiously encouraged citizens to participate in the charity campaign, saying it will help overcome the national crisis, regardless of the amount of donation, and form solidarity with neighbors in need.

“Donation is a voluntary choice of good faith. ... Those who cannot afford to make donations still contribute to boost contracted domestic consumption by spending the payment,” he said.

In 2019, the fund logged a deficit for the second year in a row due to high demand for unemployment benefits.

In March, the country reported its first on-year increase in unemployment since 2009, as the coronavirus pandemic affected the job market.

The nation lost about 195,000 jobs in March, marking the sharpest monthly decline since May 2009, when it lost some 240,000 jobs, according to the data compiled by Statistics Korea.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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