CORONAVIRUS/Taiwan's legislature passes US$9 billion COVID-19 relief package

06/18/2021 08:51 PM
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Premier Su Tseng-chang (in orange mask) shakes hand with Legislative Speaker You Si-kun on the floor after lawmakers passed the new round of COVID-19 relief package on Friday. CNA photo June 18, 2021
Premier Su Tseng-chang (in orange mask) shakes hand with Legislative Speaker You Si-kun on the floor after lawmakers passed the new round of COVID-19 relief package on Friday. CNA photo June 18, 2021

Taipei, June 18 (CNA) Taiwan's lawmakers passed a new round of COVID-19 economic relief on Friday, bringing the total relief budget to NT$679.39 billion (US$24.44 billion), as the impact from the past month of Level 3 near lockdown measures affects many businesses.

In the latest relief package, the Legislative Yuan approved NT$259.49 billion on Friday, the last day of a 12-day extraordinary session of the Legislature.

The government had previously allocated NT$419.9 billion in special budgets for COVID-19 economic relief, but this budget was the largest.

The approved version, which was agreed upon after negotiations between legislative caucuses of the ruling and opposition parties since Wednesday, shaved NT$501 million off the Cabinet's proposed spending of NT$260 billion, which will be paid for by debts raised by the government.

The cuts included NT$500 million in the National Communications Commission's planned budget of NT$800 million, which would have been given as subsidies to Taiwan's telecom operators, as they are offering free text messaging services at stores and other businesses, as part of the government's contact tracing requirements for businesses that stay open.

Under the current Level 3 COVID-19 alert, which was introduced across Taiwan on May 19 and has been extended to June 28, public venues, including businesses such as banks and shops, are required to keep a registry of the contact information of visitors or customers, who are asked to scan a QR code at the entrance and send a text message to the health authorities.

Legislators also cut NT$1 million from the Ministry of Economic Affairs' planned administrative spending of NT$10 million to provide subsidies to help businesses that have suffered.

On the other hand, the COVID-19 relief package was adopted along with several resolutions proposed by lawmakers.

One of the resolutions is a NT$100,000 subsidy to be paid by the Ministry of Health and Welfare for each person who dies from the disease.

To date, 518 people in Taiwan have died from COVID-19, including 506 since the recent surge of locally-transmitted cases in mid-May.

Another resolution adopted asked the Ministry of the Interior to offer subsidies to people who lived in a rented home and have been affected by the ongoing outbreak in Taiwan.

Lawmakers also demanded the Ministry of Labor come up with a subsidy for first time job seekers.

However, a few proposals made by lawmakers of the opposition Kuomintang party, which suggested a cash payout of NT$10,000 for each person regardless of income, and demanded that locally-developed COVID-19 vaccines need to complete Phase 3 clinical trials before rollout, were voted down by legislators from the ruling party, which holds a majority in the Legislative Yuan.

This was the fourth round of spending proposed by the administration since the introduction of the Special Act for Prevention, Relief and Revitalization Measures for Severe Pneumonia with Novel Pathogens in February 2020.

According to the Cabinet, the government had spent NT$300.2 billion of the money previously approved in the earlier three special budgets as of May 31.

Also on Friday, the Legislature passed a new law which allows the use of video conferencing in legal proceedings when people involved in ongoing court cases cannot appear in person.

The new law, specially designed for the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, is set to expire on June 30, 2023.

(By Fan Cheng-hsiang, Kuo Chien-shen, Wang Yang-yu, Lai Yu-chen and Kay Liu)

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