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'Basic disaster income' suggested

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The compound of Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul remains almost empty, Saturday, as people avoid crowded places due to fears of the COVID-19 outbreak. / Yonhap
The compound of Gyeongbok Palace in Seoul remains almost empty, Saturday, as people avoid crowded places due to fears of the COVID-19 outbreak. / Yonhap

By Kim Rahn

An entrepreneur has called on the government to provide every citizen with 500,000 won ($413) in "basic income in case of disaster," saying many people have been suffering from severe financial strain due to the month-long COVIC-19 epidemic.

He claimed such emergency monetary support would be more effective than planned government countermeasures such as tax cuts for vehicle purchases.

Lee Jae-woong, CEO of SoCar / Yonhap
Lee Jae-woong, CEO of SoCar / Yonhap
Lee Jae-woong, CEO of SoCar, posted a petition on the Cheong Wa Dae website, Sunday, to call for monetary support, saying people are avoiding meetings and activities, and facilities are being shut down temporarily over fears of infection.

"(Avoiding gatherings and closing facilities) is necessary to prevent the spread of the virus, but the fear of the virus spread has caused a serious economic crisis, which is spreading faster than the virus itself," wrote Lee, who was co-head of a joint organization of the public and the private sectors for innovative growth in 2018.

He gave examples of those affected: restaurants have a handful of customers a day; housekeeping helpers do not get any calls; college students who borrowed money to pay for tuition have difficulty in getting part-time jobs, so some of them cannot even have regular meals; flight attendants are forced to take unpaid leave while they have to keep paying rent and other expenses; and workers at travel agencies are losing their jobs as their companies shut down.

Saying it is a matter of life and death, Lee urged the government to provide 500,000 won to each citizen under the name of a "basic income for disaster."

"Marginalized small business owners, freelancers, irregular workers, students and 10 million unemployed people need a minimum income to buy face masks, pay rent, take care of children and have even a cheap meal like ramen," he said.

Lee said the planned government measures to revive the economy ― for example, cutting special consumption taxes for vehicle purchases, supporting paid leave for employees who need to take care of their children at home, and deducting income tax ― are not a fit for the virus-caused economic crisis and do not help those people mentioned above.

"We need measures to financially support the people who cannot hold on anymore," he said, adding that a 10 trillion won to 20 trillion won extra budget would cover the cost. "It will be the budget to save people."

People showed positive reactions to the petition.

"Cutting taxes for vehicle purchases is not the point. We don't have money even to buy face masks," a blogger wrote on the portal site Daum. "I don't mind if I don't receive the money, but Lee's petition is a great shift in thinking. Bureaucratic, paper administrative policies are not effective. I strongly support this idea," another wrote.

Despite public support, a long road remains ahead for such a monetary provision to be possible, because Korea has no legislation to support such a plan.

It will also require the National Assembly's consent in principle, and it will take time for the Assembly to discuss the unprecedented issue. Also the rival parties are unlikely to come to a compromise soon considering such "general welfare" of giving money equally to all people regardless of age and income level has been a bone of contention for liberals and conservatives alike.

But it could be possible for the government to carry out the measure if the President exercises his constitutional right for emergency financial order. According to the Constitution, when urgent measures are required and there is no time to gain Assembly approval, the president can independently issue an order to execute financial programs in the interest of maintaining national security and public order.

Kim Rahn


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