(ATTN: CHANGES amount in headline, lead per DP's correction)
SEOUL, Jan. 26 (Yonhap) -- Opposition leader Lee Jae-myung on Thursday proposed offering 7.2 trillion won (US$5.8 billion) in handouts to help people cope with spikes in heating and energy bills.
The proposal came amid a steep hike in households' heating bills due to a rise in gas prices. According to Statistics Korea, local monthly gas rates increased by 34 percent last month from a year ago.
Lee, chair of the main opposition Democratic Party (DP), called for imposing a "windfall tax" on energy companies, such as four major oil refiners, to redistribute the excessive profits the companies have earned and secure financial resources for the handouts.
The DP's chief policymaker, Rep. Kim Sung-hwan, said during an emergency party meeting if the government provides different amounts of assistance according to income level, about 80 percent of the population can enjoy the benefits.
"We could have expected a situation like this could happen because of the war and the economic situation, but the government failed to come up with sufficient measures to respond to this," Lee said, referring to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which accelerated the rise in global energy prices.
"The problem would not have been exacerbated to this extent if the government had paid just part of the attention it puts on its efforts toward reducing taxes for the wealthy to this matter," Lee added.
Meanwhile, the presidential office said the government will expand the energy vouchers for low-income households this winter from 152,000 won to 304,000 won and provide more discounts on gas rates.