President backs cash subsidies for needy; opposes universal doleout

President Tsai Ing-wen

TAIPEI (CNA) — President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said Thursday that a move by the government to give out cash to help people in financial trouble as subsidies is not the same as doling out cash to everyone in the country, as urged by the opposition Kuomintang (KMT), amid the COVID-19 pandemic that is affecting the global economy.

Speaking to reporters as she surveyed a job-training program launched by the Ministry of Labor, Tsai said that whenever the government comes up with relief measures, it has to take into account its fiscal ability, so financial resources have to be allocated to the right people who have been affected by the spread of the virus.

Tsai said that if the government launches a universal cash handout that includes some people who already enjoy a handsome income, such a handout will yield little relief.

In addition to cash subsidies, the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) has introduced “stimulus coupons” as part of efforts to mitigate the economic effects of COVID-19.

The coupons will be accepted at an estimated 140,000 restaurants around Taiwan, as well as 280,000 businesses in shopping centers, 10,000 night markets and 1,700 arts and culture spots, according to the MOEA.

The MOEA said the stimulus coupons will provide discounts to consumers, a measure that is expected to encourage consumption and boost the economy, which has been hurt by the virus.

However, the KMT has urged the government to issue cash, as many countries, including the United States, are doing.

KMT Chairman Chiang Chi-chen (江啟臣) said Thursday that only if people in financial trouble receive cash, instead of the planned stimulus coupons, directly from the government, their hardship will be resolved.

Chiang urged the ruling party during a news conference to listen to the people and gain a better understanding of the suffering the people are enduring, saying that the KMT will add an amendment to the current relief act to issue cash worth NT$100 billion (US$3.33 billion) to the public.

In March, the Legislative Yuan approved a NT$60 billion special budget and on April 2, the Cabinet proposed an amendment to the special budget by adding NT$150 billion to the relief efforts.

Chiang emphasized, however, that the cash payouts will not include the wealthy and said the KMT will be delighted to discuss with the government about the cash handouts. He did not explain the KMT’s definition of “wealthy.”

In response, Tsai said that many in Taiwan, including the KMT, have mistaken the measures to provide relief to people or enterprises in financial trouble for measures to boost the economy.

Tsai said the stimulus coupons are aimed at encouraging consumption to boost the economy, while cash subsidies as relief are aimed at helping people climb out of their financial troubles, so the financial resources should be used for the right categories of people instead of the general public.

Also commenting on the relief efforts, Premier Su Tseng-chang (蘇貞昌) said the government will assign NT$103.5 billion out of the proposed NT$150 billion to give out cash to disadvantaged people, including the disabled, the elderly, tax drivers, tour bus drivers and self-employed workers who have been affected by the virus spread.

Su said the cash subsidies are expected to benefit about 3 million people.

The premier said that as long as the amendment is passed by the Legislative Yuan, the cash will be paid immediately, urging lawmakers in both ruling and opposition camps to support the amendment.