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The number of welfare benefit applications submitted in Japan in August fell to 17,451, the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry said Wednesday.

The monthly figure fell by 2,199 from the previous month and 735 year on year, even though restaurants and other businesses in many parts of the country were asked to shorten their operating hours due to concerns over a second wave of novel coronavirus infections.

“Loan systems for struggling people have become known more widely,” a ministry official said. “An increasing number of people use such loans before applying for welfare benefits.”

In August, the number of households that started receiving welfare benefits fell 1,270 from July to 14,766.

The total number of households on welfare dropped 0.1 percent from a year before to 1,635,356.

Meanwhile, approval had been given to 1,248,109 applications for an interest-free emergency small-lot loan program, for a total of ¥463.7 billion, as of Oct. 24.

The program, aimed at helping those who lost jobs or were forced to suspend business operations amid the virus crisis, provides up to ¥200,000 in loans to help them cover living expenses.

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