National

Japan's local governments struggling with applications for virus cash

JIJI

Many Japanese local municipalities are struggling to distribute the universal ¥100,000 coronavirus cash relief due to a heavy workload resulting from handling online applications.

About 97 percent of Japan’s municipal offices started accepting applications online, but the distribution of the handout has started in less than 60 percent of them, according to the internal affairs ministry.

At local municipalities, officials are giving up holidays in the hope of delivering as quickly as possible the one-time cash relief to all residents, a key measure by the central government to tackle the COVID-19 fallout.

Applications are accepted online via the government’s Mynaportal website or by mail. Local authorities are responsible for distributing the money to residents.

But officials are having trouble with checking information provided online against that included in the basic resident register. It takes time because there is no computer system to do it all at once.

They are also struggling with many mistakes. For instance, they may come across an application by a person who is not the head of a household and is requesting relief for somebody who lives with the applicant but is a member of a different household.

Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward has received some 11,600 applications. But payment procedures have been completed for only 680 cases as officials had to correct mistakes one by one.

The ward found a mistake in about 70 percent of applications on the day it started accepting them online. It could not finish processing a single application that day.

Now, it can handle 350 applications daily thanks to guidelines and a simple computer program to assist with processing work.

Edogawa, another ward in the capital, decided to deal with applications containing mistakes later to speed up the procedure for the rest. By Sunday, the payment procedure had been completed for about 85 percent of 15,217 applications.

Still, it will take some time to process applications containing errors.

Edogawa plans to start accepting applications by mail in late May.

“Online applications are processed quickly if they have no problems, but their processing will be delayed significantly if they contain any mistakes,” an Edogawa official said. “We hope those who can wait will apply by mail later.”

The southwestern city of Fukuoka had processed some 18,000 applications and sent them to banks by Tuesday for payment.

Fukuoka handles some 3,000 applications per day. “We struggled at the beginning, but a check system our staff built finally started working,” an official said.

The central government decided on the universal handout in April, abruptly scrapping its original plan to distribute ¥300,000 in relief to households suffering substantial income drops.

On the online application system, an official of the Cabinet Office said, “We prioritized usability as we were pressed for time.”

“We’re improving the website every day through discussions with local municipal offices,” the official said.

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