Cases have surfaced in which municipalities in Tohoku have stopped welfare payments to victims of the March 11 earthquake-tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
The reason given for removing these people from the list of recipients of seikatsu hogo (livelihood assistance) is that they have received relief money from the Japan Red Cross or compensation for the nuclear accidents from Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the Fukushima No. 1 plant.
In view of these people’s sufferings and unstable conditions, the municipalities’ decision seems harsh and callous. They should dispense with a uniform application of formulas when deciding whether disaster victims are eligible for welfare payments. Instead they should look at the specific conditions of disaster victims.
Municipal workers should remember the purpose of seikatsu hogo — literally, life protection — to guarantee the minimum standard of living to people and help them become self-supporting.
The Minami Soma city government in Fukushima Prefecture stopped welfare payments for June to some 150 households because they had received compensation from Tepco or relief money from the Japan Red Cross. The city of Iwaki, also in Fukushima Prefecture, also stopped welfare payments for June to two households for similar reasons.
The bar associations of Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures have found cases in which municipalities removed evacuees staying at temporary shelters from the list of welfare recipients on the grounds that because they receive meals and other items at the shelters, they do not need welfare money for living.
Under the seikatsu hogo system, municipalities shoulder one-quarters of the welfare payments while the central government shoulders three-quarters.
According to the rules for the distribution of donations sent to the Japan Red Cross, ¥350,000 is to be paid for one dead or missing person, ¥350,000 for a family whose house was destroyed, ¥180,000 for a family whose house was half-destroyed and ¥350,000 for a family within 30 km of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Tepco made a provisional payment of ¥1 million in compensation to a family within 30 km from the power plant or in special evacuation zones. The compensation for a single-person household is ¥750,000.
The health and welfare ministry has sent a notice to municipalities concerning how to judge the eligibility for the livelihood assistance of disaster victims who have received the relief money from the Japan Red Cross or the compensation from Tepco.
The notice tells municipalities not to regard as income the part of the relief money or the compensation that is used for purchase of living necessities or set aside for rebuilding their lives or financial self- support.
Municipalities examine what portion of the relief money. compensation or other funds is used by disaster victims for such purposes as the purchase of living necessities and the repair of their houses.
If they judge that cash in hand (those funds minus the costs for living, repairs, etc.) is enough for disaster victims to live six or more months, they stop welfare payments to them. They tell these people that if they run out of money for living, they can again apply for livelihood assistance.
It is clear that municipalities basically regard the relief money and the compensation as income.
But one wonders whether the relief money, which people from various parts of Japan and the world donated in the hope that disaster victims will use it to rebuild their lives destroyed by the natural disasters or the nuclear accidents, falls in the category of income in the livelihood assistance system.
Municipalities should pay attention to the benevolent spirit of people who have donated money for assistance and allow disaster victims to save the relief money for stabilization of their future lives. They should not regard such savings as income under the livelihood assistance system.
Municipalities should remember that disaster victims were hit by unprecedented disasters or accidents and that many of them lost their houses or employment. Among disaster victims are elderly people who have chronic diseases. Some people from Fukushima Prefecture are living a migratory life, moving from one shelter to another. It must not be forgotten that disaster victims have no clear prospect of succeeding in rebuilding their lives.
The increasing financial burden of paying for livelihood assistance under the prolonged economic downturn is apparently behind municipalities’ move to stop welfare payments to disaster victims.
Throughout Japan, in March, more than 2.02 million people were on welfare, coming close to the record of the monthly average of 2.04 million in fiscal 1951. The number of households on welfare hit an all-time high of 1.46 million.
Municipalities in the disaster-hit Tohoku region may fear that the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and the nuclear crisis will add to their welfare payment burdens.
At least the central government should consider increasing its portion of welfare payments in the devastated areas.
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