FPO proposes debt test to screen welfare smartcard recipients

FPO proposes debt test to screen welfare smartcard recipients

Some welfare card holders could be cheating the system by claiming 'poverty' because they are big spenders. (File photo)
Some welfare card holders could be cheating the system by claiming 'poverty' because they are big spenders. (File photo)

The Fiscal Policy Office (FPO) has floated the idea of adding debt burden to the criteria in screening recipients for the government's welfare and subsidy scheme for the poor in an effort to weed out cheats.

The Finance Ministry will consider several aspects, including debt, to determine qualified recipients of the government's aid scheme in the future, as debt can suggest registrants earn income above the poverty line, said Narumon Pinyosinwat, vice-minister for finance.

On the other hand, debt could also mean they are broke, she said.

An income-based approach was used for welfare scheme registration in 2016 and 2017.

The welfare smartcards were launched by the Prayut Chan-o-cha government in an attempt to direct assistance to those in need instead of providing blanket aid as was done in the past.

The government in 2016 offered a one-time handout to those earning up to 100,000 baht a year as required by the Finance Ministry.

Under the scheme, those earning up to 30,000 baht a year were entitled to 3,000 baht per person, while those earning more than 30,000 but less than 100,000 baht a year were entitled to 1,500 baht. Some 8.27 million people signed up for subsidies and welfare in 2016, but almost 7 million were qualified to receive a one-off cash handout.

The government in 2017 tightened the criteria after finding that someone used a loophole to receive a cash giveaway. The criteria required applicants to be unemployed or to have had an income of 100,000 baht or less in the past year to receive aid under the programme.

In addition, applicants' savings, savings certificates and bond holdings must be worth less than 100,000 baht combined.

If applicants own property, the area must not exceed 35 square metres for a condo unit, 25 square wah for a townhouse or 10 rai for agricultural purposes. Applicants must be Thai nationals aged 18 and over.

But the Finance Ministry still detected some welfare smartcard holders who shouldn't have been eligible for government assistance. Officials are seeking to tighten the criteria to filter out those who are not really poor.

Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong said recently that the income of the registrant's family should also be taken into a consideration, as some individuals earn no more than 100,000 baht a year but receive financial support from other family members, bringing their actual income above the threshold the ministry has set for welfare and subsidies.

Regarding a viral image in social media that showed a woman who owns an ice factory and wears a gold necklace holding her welfare smartcards, Ms Narumon said the woman signed up in 2016 when her income still met the criteria.

Delegated by Gen Prayut, Mr Apisak has instructed the FPO to examine the case, she said, adding that welfare smartcard holders should declare their income every year.

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