The Jan. 12, 2021, file photo shows a closed store in the famous shopping district of Myeongdong in central Seoul due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Yonhap)
The ruling Democratic Party (DP) has been discussing measures to provide a new round of a COVID-19 relief fund as stringent social distancing rules continue to weigh on small businesses and the self-employed, party officials said.
Since May last year, the government has distributed more than 31 trillion won ($27.8 billion) to households, as well as small merchants and business owners, through three rounds of a COVID-19 relief fund.
The need for a fresh, fourth round of emergency handouts has been raised as the country is exploring ways to properly compensate small businesses for the heavy losses they suffered to comply with government orders to close or cut down operations to contain the virus.
"Damage compensation (to small businesses) through the fourth round of the disaster relief assistance fund is (currently) a subject of consultation between the party, the government and Cheong Wa Dae," DP's policy committee chief Rep. Hong Ihk-pyo was quoted as saying during a recent plenary party meeting.
"The distribution of the fourth disaster relief fund could offset (some of) the damage inflicted on small merchants and business owners," he noted.
According to party sources, the envisioned assistance package may be worth up to 20 trillion won and include stimulus checks to each household, as well as tailored assistance to affected business owners.
The DP is expected to officially bring the matter to the table after the National Assembly reopens on Feb. 1 for an extraordinary session.
The provision of the fourth emergency handout is expected to relieve the urgent need of support for struggling small businesses for the moment as the party is seeking to enact a law on compensating small businesses for their losses.
The country has been implementing the Level 2.5 social distancing guidelines, the second highest of the five-tier system, in the greater Seoul area and Level 2, which is a step lower, in other areas since early last month. The prolonged restrictions have fueled complaints from owners of indoor sports facilities, cafes and bars with some filing compensation suits against the government.
The DP recently launched the legislation bid to rescue those who fell victim to the social distancing measures but then decided to change their approach and enact the law in a way that allows for compensation for similar losses in the future, not retrospectively. (Yonhap)