The government is likely to change course and give cash handouts to specific groups of people after its budget plan for the next fiscal year drew criticism that it ignored those in need of relief, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Most political parties, from the opposition to pro-establishment camps, have slammed Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po for failing to offer any relief to citizens in his budget speech on Feb. 28, despite his projection of a record cash surplus of HK$138 billion for the current financial year to March.
They said the benefits Chan had announced would mainly go to the middle class while only scant resources have been allocated for grassroots families. They urged the government to offer cash handouts to citizens as it did in 2011, when everyone aged 18 and above received HK$6,000.
On Wednesday, however, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she had to admit the budget should have covered a wider scope when it comes to relief measures.
Lam revealed that the government will ask the Community Care Fund to plan a program with a wider relief coverage than the existing N-nothing program, which Lam said is not comprehensive enough as it targets only those who are not living in public housing and not supported by the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance Scheme.
Lam said the program in the pipeline can have a wider coverage but stressed that there will be no across-the-board cash handouts.
The financial secretary has said he has reservations about across-the-board cash handouts, and Lam said she supports his view, adding that the government intends to broaden relief coverage.
Meanwhile, the government is said to be considering offering cash handouts to citizens falling under specific categories.
The rumor is that all legal residents over 18 who earn less than HK$15,500 a month and do not receive any public welfare benefits could be expected to receive a one-off cash grant of between HK$2,000 and HK$3,000, according to some media reports.
An unnamed source told HKEJ that although no final decision has been made, the amount will be drawn from the Community Care Fund and will definitely be more than HK$2,000 if the government decides to go ahead with such a plan.
At a luncheon on Wednesday, Chan did not respond to rumors that the government will be giving cash handouts to low-income people.
Starry Lee Wai-king, who chairs the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the largest pro-establishment political party in the city, said a HK$2,000 cash handout to the target group would be too low.
She instead called on the government to grant cash to workers who are not qualified to receive tax refunds for earning less than the threshold amount.
New People’s Party chairwoman and Executive Council member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said it would be more appropriate to give a minimum cash grant of HK$3,000.
But she said she is opposed to the idea of drawing the line based on the median monthly wage. Instead, she called for cash handouts to all adults with no property and pay no taxes.
Lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun from political group Roundtable said giving cash handouts to a target group would unavoidably upset some people, and suggested instead that a fund be set up using the public purse to solve social problems more effectively.
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