• Kyodo

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A major city on the island of Shikoku initially excluded people with no bank accounts from the blanket cash handout program as part of the central government’s coronavirus response, assuming that most such citizens belong to organized crime groups.

The Kochi Municipal Government’s handling in May of the across-the-board handouts may have deprived homeless people and recipients of welfare payments who do not have identity documents needed to open accounts of receiving ¥100,000 ($920) per person, their supporters said.

The local authorities opened a special counter last month for impoverished people so they could receive the money earlier than others. But they did not prepare a space on the application form about how to receive the cash other than a bank transfer.

The authorities told Kyodo News three times between May and June that their reasoning was that most such people are members of anti-social organizations such as organized crime syndicates.

“(The Kochi Municipal Government) did not give a helping hand to the most-strained people,” said Kiyomu Tanaka, a professor at the University of Kochi versed in community-based welfare.

If the payments for them will be delayed because of the lack of bank accounts, the city government’s attempts to deliver the cash to needy citizens earlier becomes pointless, said Tanaka, who also heads a local civic group supporting homeless people.

The municipal authorities are scheduled to mail application forms to all households in the city on June 11, having now included a space for those who do not have bank accounts.

The central government has said that homeless people are eligible for the money as long as they are registered as a citizen of any municipality.

The Kochi Municipal Government accepted applications from more than 10 people without bank accounts who visited the special counter during the application period between May 1 and 29. The officials noted in the margin of the forms that those people did not have such accounts and decided to deliver the money in person.

However, “It can’t be denied there may have been some who gave up (applying) after seeing the form” requiring them to fill in bank account details, a city official told Kyodo News. “We might have deprived some people of the opportunity to apply,” the official said.

City officials initially decided to exclude people without bank accounts after consulting with colleagues who had been in charge of delivering ¥12,000 each to residents under the central government’s relief package aimed at spurring consumption amid the 2008 global financial crisis.

Those who handled the previous delivery said that most people who did not have bank accounts were “anti-social forces” who did not appear to be hurting for money.

Members of organized crime groups, often dubbed “anti-social forces,” are not permitted to open bank accounts in line with bank policies designed to exclude them.

Although the city government will now pay ¥100,000 in person to applicants without bank accounts, it will take additional clerical work and likely time to do so, according to the officials.

Kochi Mayor Seiya Okazaki said at a news conference Thursday that the city never intended to exclude people without bank accounts.

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