Finance seeks cabinet nod for B40bn in handouts

Finance seeks cabinet nod for B40bn in handouts

A free-ride train sits at Hua Lamphong station. The service is one of several welfare schemes available to qualified registrants. PAWAT LAOPAISARNTAKSIN
A free-ride train sits at Hua Lamphong station. The service is one of several welfare schemes available to qualified registrants. PAWAT LAOPAISARNTAKSIN

The Finance Ministry will seek cabinet approval in the next week or two for a 40-billion-baht budget to assist people who qualify for the government's welfare and subsidy scheme, says finance permanent secretary Somchai Sujjapongse.

The 40 billion baht will be used to fund free rides for the poor on public buses and trains, as well as subsidise utility bills and allow them to buy staple goods from the Commerce Ministry's Blue Flag shops, while the budget to put money into the pockets of those earning below the poverty line (30,000 baht a year) has yet to be finalised.

Earlier, the Finance Ministry planned to spend 50 billion baht on cash handouts to those living below the poverty line, and an additional 30 billion to provide welfare and subsidies of up to 100,000 baht a year for people with earnings below the poverty line.

An informed source at the Finance Ministry said the government will provide people on the welfare scheme a monthly total of 2,750 baht: 1,000 baht for use on trains, 800 for interprovincial public buses, 600 for public buses in Bangkok and its outskirts, 150 for tap water bills and 200 for electric bills.

These benefits are expected to cost the government 22 billion baht a year, and the budget will reach 40 billion when credit for buying goods in Blue Flag shops is included, the source said.

Mr Somchai said people who meet the scheme's qualifications can obtain electronic cards in which credit for welfare and subsidies will be deposited by the government every month. The assistance will be provided to qualified people from October.

For instance, the government provides credit for cardholders to ride trains. The stored amount can be used strictly in one month and cannot be carried over to the next month.

The number of registrants for this year's scheme stands at 14.1 million, up from 8.27 million in 2016.

The ministry's criteria for the scheme this year require applicants to be unemployed or to have had an income of 100,000 baht or less last year to receive aid under the programme.

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 of land for agricultural purposes. Applicants must be Thai nationals aged 18 and over.

Regarding aid to those with earnings below the poverty line, Mr Somchai said the Finance Ministry is still considering the appropriate model.

The ministry, however, will gradually hand out cash to those at the bottom rung of the economic ladder and observe their behaviour in participating in the government's career training courses, he said.

Those who receive the government allowance will also be required to file tax refunds with the Revenue Department to keep a record of their income, Mr Somchai said, adding that whether the income of these people increases is the key to the model for the cash handouts.

The Finance Ministry is mulling whether to allow the Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives and communities to verify the income of those living below the poverty line.

No money will be dispensed if annual income exceeds 30,000 baht, Mr Somchai said.

The Finance Ministry has estimated that about 4 million people have an annual income below the poverty line.

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