SEOUL-- Prime Minister Kim Boo-kyum on Friday reiterated his reluctance to spending another round of universal COVID-19 relief grants as proposed by Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), saying that a "long discussion" is needed to deal with the issue.
"We have not reached an agreement on whether that is the right way," Kim said during a session of the special parliamentary committee on budget and accounts in Seoul where lawmakers reviewed the government's budget proposal for the next year.
"We really used up our energy after providing cash handouts to all people," he added. "After all, it is about using people's precious tax money."
Earlier this week, Lee said the government should dole out additional cash handouts to all people, saying that the relief amount is too small considering the nation's GDP and in comparison with other countries.
He called for providing an additional 300,000-500,000 won (US$250-420) per person at least since the government is expected to log a larger-than-expected surplus in tax revenue this year.
But Kim said Wednesday in a CBS radio interview that the government cannot afford extra universal COVID-19 relief grants, emphasizing that the most urgent task for now is to compensate the self-employed and small business owners suffering from the pandemic.
Considering South Korea's 51.3 million population, the government needs to spend at least more than 15 trillion won if it accepts Lee's proposal of giving cash handouts to all people.
Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki took a similar stance, saying that targeted support for vulnerable people is better.
"The national debt is growing at a very fast pace. I think the government needs to focus on fiscal health if the COVID-19 pandemic is brought under control," Hong told lawmakers.
The minister has long opposed the provision of emergency cash handouts to all people due to the growing national debt.
In May 2020, the government doled out 14.3 trillion won in stimulus checks to all households to help them cope with the fallout of the pandemic.
Source: Yonhap News Agency