Premier Yu Shyi-kun announced yesterday that the Cabinet would raise the monthly pension for senior farmers and fishermen from NT$3,000 to NT$4,000.
"If all goes well, we hope to implement the policy on Jan. 1 next year," Yu said.
To that end, the Cabinet has to convince the legislature to approve the draft amendments of the Temporary Statue Regarding the Welfare Pension of Senior Farmers (老年農民福利津貼暫行條例).
Once approved, it is estimated that the government will have to spend an additional NT$8.4 billion annually for the extension of the scheme. The annual cost currently is about NT$23 billion and benefits 670,000 farmers and fishermen nationwide.
Justifying the expansion of the pension program, Yu yesterday said that it was necessary because the agricultural sector has received a serious blow following the nation's accession to the World Trade Organization last year. In addition, the amount of the pension has remained unchanged ever since its promulgation in June 1995.
"As a responsible government, we should do our best to ensure that the benefits and interests of farmers and fishermen are safeguarded," Yu said.
Under the pension program, farmers and fishermen over the age of 65 and covered by the farmers' health insurance program or the labor insurance program for over six months are eligible for a NT$3,000 monthly pension for the rest of their lives.
Provisional in nature, the pension program was designed to be replaced by a national annuity scheme, which has been bogged down in the legislature since June last year.
The Cabinet hopes to implement the scheme no later than next year, when Chen's four-year term expires.
The annuity program is designed to benefit those not covered by any private pension provision and was part of President Chen Shui-bian's (
His "3-3-3 welfare program" set out the goals of making health insurance free for children under the age of three, giving people over the age of 65 a NT$3,000 monthly subsidy until a national annuity plan could be established and lowering interest rates for first-time homeowners to 3 percent.
Despite the government's tight budget constraints, Yu said that the Cabinet would find other financial resources to fund the pension rise since it followed from a pledge made by Chen.
During a seminar held at the Kangshan Township Farmers' Association in Kaohsiung on Thursday, Chen vowed to take care of the nation's farmers and fishermen by offering them "three promises and one hope."
These also included the provision of necessary advice to the credit departments of farmers' and fishermen's associations if their operations run into trouble.
The problems would then be addressed through the merging of credit departments rather than by having them taken over by commercial banks if difficulties remain, Chen said.
Chen yesterday also received 10 recipients of the 27th National Outstanding Agricultural Experts Award at the Presidential Office to show the government's recognition of the importance of the agricultural sector and appreciation of the contribution of agricultural professionals.