Legislature passes bill for living allowance

The China Post staff

The Legislature yesterday passed two provisional bills under which the government will hand out a living allowance to the elderly — considered a boost to President Chen Shui-bian’s expected re-election bid. The new welfare policy, budgeted at NT$16 billion a year, will be retroactive from January 1.

Minister of the Interior Yu Cheng-hsien thanked the Legislature for their support, adding the ministry will dispense the money before the end of June. Around 440,000 senior citizens will benefit from the program, which is a transition arrangement before a national pension program is implemented, according to officials at the ministry. The ministry will start taking applications for the allowance on June 1, and is expected to hand out the first batch of payments before the end of next month. Under the bill, those above 65 — or 55 for aborigines — will be qualified for a monthly allowance of NT$3,000.

But they must meet a series of requirements in order to be eligible for the allowance.

On top of the age requirement, they also must be residing in Taiwan for the past five years, with at least 183 days per year in the most recent three years.

Also, they must not be receiving any accommodation allowance from the government, or beneficiaries of any other pension programs for government workers or military staff. Those having land or other forms of property assets valued above NT$5 million, or having an annual income beyond NT$500,000 in the past year, will also be counted out.

The more favorable design for aborigines was insisted by the opposition. Responding to worries over the additional cost, the minister said the government will cover the extra spending with a special Cabinet budget, and will not seek to ask for more money to fund the welfare programs.

Yesterday’s passage marked another step forward by the Chen Shui-bian administration in realizing its campaign pledges, and would be another credential for Chen’s re-election bid. During his presidential campaign, Chen promised the government will provide free medical services to kids aged below three, give the elderly population a monthly allowance of NT$3,000, and lower the first-time home mortgage rate to three percent per annum. Chuang Suo-hang, the Cabinet spokesman, applauded the passage.

“The legislative passage of the bills not only marked a full materialization of President Chen’s campaign promises, but also a new milestone for the development of our social welfare,” said Chuang.

The passage, Chuang went on, also showed that the opposition should cooperate with, instead of oppose, the government.

“We hope the two sides will continue pushing for other bills related to the people’s well-being with this kind of harmonious cooperation,” said Chuang.