Ruling bloc OKs ¥2 trillion boost

Unclear whether foreign residents qualify for cash handout program

by Masami Ito

The government and Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc officially adopted a ¥2 trillion cash handout program Wednesday, but officials said they don’t know yet if foreign residents will get a piece of the pie.

The program will be included in the government’s next economic stimulus package, which needs Diet approval.

“It has not yet been specifically decided whether (the money will be) distributed” to non-Japanese, Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said in the morning. “But personally, I think (they) should be considered if they are taxpayers earning income in Japan.”

Later in the day, Prime Minister Taro Aso admitted he wasn’t aware that foreigners were not included and said the ruling coalition should talk the matter over.

“I don’t think the issue has been considered yet. The ruling parties should discuss it,” Aso told reporters at the prime minister’s office.

Under Wednesday’s written agreement, individuals will receive ¥12,000. An extra ¥8,000 will be given to households for each member age 65 or older or 18 or younger. The money is expected to be distributed before the March 31 end of the fiscal year.

Whether to set a cap for high-income earners to qualify for the cash benefits will be left to each municipality, but they cannot set the limit any lower than ¥18 million in annual income.

Opposition party lawmakers have been blasting the handout as a ploy to gain popularity for the next Lower House general election, which must be held by next September at the latest.

A member of the Democratic Party of Japan meanwhile slammed the program as “legal bribery.”

“We took into account various opinions, including voices saying we are spreading money around with our eye on the election . . . and came to this conclusion after determining things comprehensively,” Kawamura said.

With the overall package now agreed to, the details will be hammered out by a special working group set up inside the Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry.

An official at the ministry said one of the tasks will be to decide what to do about non-Japanese. He said special permanent residents — descendants of Korean and Chinese who came to Japan before and during World War II — will be included, but the beneficiaries could be expanded.

In a similar move in 1999, the government distributed gift coupons to households to revive the economy, but only permanent residents and special permanent residents were included.

“The situation has changed, society has changed, and we are going to determine the details of whether to expand the target or not,” the official said. “The government decided on the overall framework, and it is up to us to decide the details, including who will (receive cash benefits) and how.”

Aso and his Cabinet have been criticized by the media and municipal leaders for repeatedly changing their stances on the cash handout program, particularly on the issue of eligibility based on income.

Economists and voters have also criticized the payment plan, noting the previous effort to stimulate the economy with coupons in 1999 had little effect.