Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers are considering a proposal to raise the cash benefits given to elderly and retired farmers, in a move that critics say capitalizes on recent agricultural disputes.
Members of the DPP caucus yesterday said they planned to ask the legislature to approve a NT$1,000 raise in monthly checks given to farmers over the age of 65, which they estimated would cost the national coffers about NT$8.4 billion (US$290.6 milion) per year.
The measure could benefit the estimated 700,000 farmers who currently receive the NT$6,000 per month in aid given by the central government.
It is still unclear whether the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) will support the proposal, with the recent agricultural protests yet to blow over.
Thousands of farmers and activists converged in front of the Presidential Office over the weekend to express their discontent over land seizures. Earlier this month, -banana farmers complained to President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) about slumping fruit prices.
“The more than NT$8 billion needed is a large number and the government needs to look this over carefully,” KMT caucus whip Chao Li-yun (趙麗雲) said. “We should not be handing out checks just because it’s election season.”
The DPP lawmakers contend, however, that the increased benefits are necessary because farming costs have risen over the past few years, while produce prices have stagnated.
Some of the money could come from the luxury tax that went into effect on June 1, they said.
DPP Legislator Pan Men-an (潘孟安) said NT$1.5 billion could be taken from the tax, which levies duties on speculative real-estate transactions and luxury goods such as luxury cars and private aircraft.
The rest of the amount would come from central government tax revenue, said the DPP, which expects to submit a formal proposal later this week.
DPP Legislator Chen Ming-wen (陳明文) said that supporters of the proposal planned to ask DPP Chairperson and presidential candidate Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) to include it in her election platform.
Chen said they plan to discuss the issue at a routine meeting of the party’s Central Standing Committee this afternoon and ask that the measure be officially incorporated.
“It’s a responsible proposal. Public sector salaries have increased by 3 percent and benefits for veterans have also increased by NT$600,” DPP Legislator Yeh Yi-jin (葉宜津) said. “Despite their difficult situation, farmers haven’t received corresponding care.”
Intense political attention on agricultural issues began early this month after a group of banana farmers complained that record-low fruit prices were causing difficulties for area planters.
The Council of Agriculture has pledged to propose an overall solution regarding water distribution, slumping produce prices and concerns over unbridled farmland expropriation that led to the weekend sit-in protest.
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