Ministry eyes changes for in-house nurseries

Relaxed rules to reduce time on waiting lists

JIJI

To reduce the length of waiting lists for children trying to get into day care, the labor ministry plans to relax its rules for government subsidies for workplace nurseries.

To qualify for government aid under current rules, at least half of the users of an in-house nursery must be employees of the company for the nursery. The ministry plans to lower the minimum requirement to just one employee per nursery, according to sources.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry hopes to implement the change as soon as possible, likely within this year.

The government plans to increase the combined capacity of nurseries across the country by 400,000 children in the next five years. Easing the requirement for government aid is aimed at encouraging companies to set up more nurseries.

Currently, large companies can receive up to ¥15 million in aid to finance a third of their costs to build nurseries on their premises. Small and midsize firms can get up to ¥23 million to cover two-thirds of the costs. Personnel and other operating costs are covered at the same rates.

The ministry has required that most beneficiaries be employes because the subsidy program is funded by unemployment insurance premiums paid by companies and their employees.

However, small and midsize firms with few employees complain that the eligibility hurdle is too high.

Considering that “workplace nurseries are helping reduce the number of children on waiting lists,” the ministry has decided to relax the rules, a senior official at the ministry said.

More subsidies, less fees

The education ministry plans to expand subsidies for preschool education and waive kindergarten fees for a family’s third and subsequent children without any limits on household income, according to sources.

Starting in fiscal 2014, the ministry also plans to subsidize half of the kindergarten fees for the second child. These measures would be applicable if the children’s brother or sister is in the third grade or younger at elementary school, the sources said.

The subsidy program is expected to cost the central and local governments about ¥30 billion per year. The ministry plans to include related expenses in its budget request for fiscal 2014, according to the sources.

However, the ministry may have difficulty gaining Finance Ministry approval for the funding request.

Under the current system, households are exempt from kindergarten charges for the third and following children and eligible for subsidies to cover half of the fees for the second child if three or more children in the same household go to kindergarten at the same time.

If a brother or sister is in the third grade or younger at elementary school, kindergarten fees are also waived for the third child and a quarter of the fees are subsidized for the second child. But there are income limits for most cases.

Starting next April, the ministry will remove the income limits for the second and later children, the sources said.

Kindergarten fees for the first child in households that are receiving welfare benefits will also be waived starting in the next fiscal year, they said.

The Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito pledged in the election in December to offer free preschool education. They won the Lower House election and returned to power.

Education minister Hakubun Shimomura, state minister Masako Mori and welfare minister Norihisa Tamura will soon hold a meeting with working-level officials of the ruling parties to discuss the education ministry’s plan.