Pedestrians walk through the quiet Gangnam district in Seoul on Dec. 14. (Yonhap)
South Korea plans to kick off a 4.1 trillion won ($3.7 billion) emergency cash handout program Monday to offer up to 3 million won to small business owners, freelancers and special contract laborers hit by the third wave of coronavirus here, the Finance Ministry said Sunday.
Roughly 2.5 million small business owners and self-employed individuals, or almost 90 percent of the country’s total, are eligible for the cash subsidies. They will be notified via text messages that they have been chosen for the government’s third round of the cash handout program, according to the Ministry of Economy and Finance.
The beneficiaries, many who have suffered financial hardship during the pandemic as a result of stricter social distancing rules, can receive the cash as early as Monday afternoon or the following day if they file an application online upon receiving the text.
The government plans to complete the distribution by the end of the month.
Businesses that were required to temporarily close after Nov. 24, such as private education institutions, restaurants and karaoke rooms, will be eligible to receive either 2 million won or 3 million won, depending on the extent of disruption to their operations.
Establishments that have pulled in less than 400 million won in revenue last year and saw sales drop compared to their 2019 earnings, are eligible to receive 1 million won.
Freelancers and special contract laborers who were notified via text messages last week, will start receiving the cash subsidy on Monday as well. Special contract laborers are defined as those who make profits off small tips, such as delivery workers and golf caddies, according to the government.
While some lawmakers have been calling for a fourth cash handout program for all households, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki remained cautious on the matter.
“It is too early for a discussion of a possible fourth cash handout program,” Hong said in an interview with local broadcaster KBS that aired Sunday.
“We have to assess the quarantine and economic situations, along with the damages, to decide on the matter,” he added.
South Korea carried out its first cash relief program for all households from May to August, which totaled some 14.3 trillion won, to help them cope with the economic impacts of COVID-19. The second round was doled out selectively and in phases to independent contractors and small business owners from September.
As of Sunday, the country is thought to have passed the peak of the third COVID-19 wave, which saw its daily confirmed cases hit 1,000 in December.
Since early December, the government has imposed Level 2.5 -- the second highest in the country’s five-tier social distancing scheme -- in the Greater Seoul area. Level 2.5 will remain in place until Jan. 17.
By Jung Min-kyung (firstname.lastname@example.org