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Main opposition to push for third round of emergency virus handouts

This file photo shows Rep. Lee Jong-bae of the main opposition People Power Party speaking during a meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul last Thursday. (Yonhap)
This file photo shows Rep. Lee Jong-bae of the main opposition People Power Party speaking during a meeting at the National Assembly in Seoul last Thursday. (Yonhap)
The main opposition People Power Party (PPP) will push to include funds for an additional third round of coronavirus-related emergency handouts in next year's state budget, a senior party official said Tuesday.

"To help out the damaged sectors of taxi services, indoor gyms, private learning institutes and PC cafes hit by the third wave of COVID-19 and provide emergency livelihood support to households, we will provide emergency funds worth some 3.6 trillion won ($3.23 billion) to places in need at the right time," Rep. Lee Jong-bae, head of PPP's policy committee, said during a party meeting.

The government first handed out virus-related relief funds totaling 14.3 trillion won to all households from May 4 to Aug. 24 to help people cope with the economic impact of the pandemic. A second round was handed out selectively and in phases mostly to the self-employed and small business owners from last September.

Lee also said the party will push to increase state budgets in six major areas of public welfare, including child care, public health and support toward the farming industry.

Specifically, the PPP will seek to distribute 200,000 won as emergency funds to all households with children as old as high school students and provide support to small business owners in sectors that are on the verge of closure.

The party also seeks to secure funds worth 1 trillion won to purchase COVID-19 vaccines for the public. It also eyes establishing five new hospitals that specialize in epidemic control and doubling the amount of meal subsidies for underfed children.

Lee also argued for "drastic cuts" in wasteful, pork-barrel programs and publicity-oriented projects in the government's New Deal initiative.

The Moon Jae-in administration has been pushing for the so-called Korean version of the New Deal aimed at promoting economic development by expanding digital infrastructure and fostering environment friendly businesses.

The government has drawn up a 555.8 trillion-won budget bill for next year, a 8.5 percent hike from this year.

The ruling Democratic Party, however, remains focused on passing the proposed state budget without further adjustments by the Dec. 8 parliamentary deadline.

"We agree with the general idea of hoping to overcome the economic crisis through emergency handouts. But reaching a decision within a week and including it in next year's main budget is realistically difficult," DP Rep. Kim Young-jin said in a radio interview.

Kim explained that a decision on another round of relief handouts requires consensus from the public and an agreement between the ruling and opposition parties.

"There shouldn't be much trouble if we swiftly pass the main budget by Dec. 2 and negotiate the emergency handout funds," Kim said.

Cheong Wa Dae maintained a prudent approach as well, saying it's premature to conclude whether additional cash handouts are urgently necessary.

"It's just been a day since the social distancing restrictions were strengthened," a Cheong Wa Dae official told reporters and asked them to "wait and see" the effects of the measure for a while.

The official stressed the need to make utmost efforts to curb the virus spread and monitor specific problems, if any, incurred by the social distancing rules to relevant businesses and people.

In a step effective at the start of the day, the government elevated its formal social distancing alert to Level 2, the third highest in its five-tier system, in the Seoul metropolitan area amid a resurgence in coronavirus infections. (Yonhap)