In a long-awaited move to address the ever-increasing wealth gap in Taiwan, the Executive Yuan yesterday eased restrictions on subsidies to economically disadvantaged people, officials said.
Under the Cabinet’s amendment to the Social Assistance Act (社會救助法), the number of households living under a redefined poverty line — or “low-income families” — would increase by 52,000 people in 21,000 households. At present, 264,000 people in 108,000 households, or 1.36 of the population, fall into this category.
The draft also proposed defining in the act “middle-to-low-income families” to legally conceptualize the category currently defined in different ways in rules and regulations and to ensure that existing subsidies would be legally protected.
About 536,000 people in 183,000 households will be categorized as “middle-to-low-income families,” which, together with “low-income families,” would bring the number of people covered by the act to 852,000 in 312,000 households, or 3.68 percent of the population.
At present, the poverty line is set at 60 percent of the average per capita monthly living expenditure of a given administrative area over the most recent statistical year, with some restrictions relating to ownership of personal assets and real estate, among others.
If the amendment passes the legislature the standard would be defined as 60 percent of the median disposable income per capita per month of a given administrative area over the latest statistical year.
The new poverty line in the five administrative areas — Taipei City, Kaohsiung City, Lienchiang County, Kinmen County and Taiwan Province, which includes the remainder of cities and counties on the Taiwanese mainland — however, would be subject to a ceiling of 70 percent of the national median disposable income per capita.
At a press conference following the Cabinet meeting, Minister of the Interior Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) said each of the five administrative areas would have a new poverty line “higher than the current one by a range of between NT$400 [US$12.60] and more than NT$1,000.”
Citing Taipei City as an example, Chiang said the minimum living expense standard was supposed to be lifted from NT$14,614 at present to NT$16,793 after the adjustment.
“However, because of the ceiling restrictions, the new poverty line in Taipei City could be less than NT$16,793,” Chiang said.
Without a clear-cut legal definition of “middle-to-low-income households,” different government agencies apply various criteria to hand out subsidies to people living in middle-to-low-income families: Households whose average per capita income exceeds the minimum living expenses standard, but is no greater than two-and-a-half times the standard for the family’s area of residence.
To standardize the definition, the amendment stipulated that “middle-to-low-income households” would be defined as households whose average per capita income exceeds the poverty line, but is not greater than 1.5 times that standard for the family’s region of residence.
Chiang said the adjustments would cost the government an additional NT$4.35 billion in the first year of its implementation, expected to be 2012.
Reacting to the news, Taiwan Fund for Families and Children chairman Lin Po-jung (林柏榕) praised the revisions, but said the government should do more to help families living in poverty.