(ATTN: UPDATES with remarks on confirmed infections, other details in paras 8-9, last 7 paras; ADDS photo, byline)
By Lee Chi-dong
SEOUL, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- President Moon Jae-in requested the people's support Monday for the government's decision to offer "tailored" financial support to the vulnerable suffering greater predicaments due to the drawn-out COVID-19 outbreak.
He said that the call for a universal payment of even a smaller amount of money "makes sense," with all of the people in South Korea tired of battling the pandemic, while cooperating with the anti-virus efforts.
"Realistically, however, fiscal difficulties are big," he said, speaking in front of pool reporters and cameras during a weekly meeting with senior Cheong Wa Dae secretaries. "(The government) needs to issue state bonds (to finance the program)."
The government can't help considering that South Korea is still trying to ride out the crisis, the end of which is not foreseeable, he added.
Moon stressed that it's an "inevitable choice" to provide those in urgent need with tailored support for "maximized effects" on the basis of "limited budgets." The decision was made through "plenty of reviews and discussions," he added.
The plan is aimed at offering the "maximum public safety net," so that the people's lives won't collapse, by "first supporting those who are at the threshold of survival."
The previous day, the government and the ruling Democratic Party agreed formally on another round of coronavirus-related stimulus cash handouts.
Unlike the first version earlier this year, in which each of the country's households was eligible for up to 1 million won (US$840) of payment, the envisioned emergency relief funds would be granted on a targeted or selective basis.
Recipients this time would be limited to financially stricken groups, including the unemployed, youths, freelancers, low-income families, merchants and the self-employed, a party official said.
For the program, the government plans to allocate an additional supplementary budget worth more than 7 trillion won, which would be the fourth of its kind this year alone.
The government has yet to announce details including the exact scale of new extra budgets and the income criteria for the beneficiaries of the cash grant program.
Moon asked the National Assembly to swiftly pass a relevant bill, once submitted.
The president said the government would speed up administrative procedures so that the relief money can be paid as early as possible before the Chuseok holiday season to start at the end of September.
On the national campaign to curb the ongoing wave of cluster infections, Moon pointed out that the number of new confirmed cases has stayed below 200 for five days in a row.
"Our people have succeeded in turning the tide once again, although there were many gloomy prospects that the daily number of patients may exceed 1,000," Moon said.
It is still too early to be complacent, but there is "growing confidence" that South Korea can overcome the current situation, he said, appreciating the people's cooperation with tougher social distancing restrictions in place.
Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung, an advocate of universal basic income and potential presidential candidate of the ruling bloc, openly expressed regret over the government's targeted approach.
He even warned of "consequences of the forced discrimination," writing a related note on his social media account.
Asked to comment on Lee's message, a Cheong Wa Dae official said, "It's not a matter for Cheong Wa Dae to reply."
The governor can make "various comments" as a political figure, the official said on condition of anonymity, noting that he said he would "accept" the decision finalized by the government and the party.