Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) lawmakers yesterday panned the government over its intention to allocate more resources to subsidize the utility expenses of serving and retired military personnel and their families than to mentally and physically challenged people.
DPP Legislator Tuan Yi-kang (段宜康) said the government would povide a total annual subsidy of NT$1.2 billion (US$41 million) to cover electricity bills for about 300,000 households of serving and retired military personnel for this year, including parents living in separate households of those who had become soldiers before Dec. 31 last year.
“On the other hand, the annual electricity bill subsidy for life-support equipment for the more than 2,000 physically and mentally challenged individuals is only NT$23 million,” Tuan told a news conference.
He said he did not mean to provoke hostility between military families and the physically challenged, but only wanted to ask the government to readjust its allocation of resources.
On average, a military household will receive a total subsidy of around NT$3,000 to NT$4,000 a year, while a physically challenged person will get a total of a little over NT$9,500 per year. However, the average electricity bill for life support equipment can reach about NT$16,000 a year, he said.
“The economic burden is going to get worse for the physically challenged who depend on life support machines — as well as for social welfare groups and shelters — when the electricity price goes up next month,” DPP Legislator Ho Hsin-chun (何欣純) said. “They really need a hand from the government as soon as possible, and it’s time for the government to readjust its subsidy policy.”
In response, Director of the Ministry of the Interior’s (MOI) Department of Social Affairs Chien Hui-chuan (簡慧娟) said the ministry is certainly willing to help out, and will study how they could increase subsidies for the disabled.
Ministry of National Defense official Pai Chieh-lung (白捷隆), who also attended the news conference, said that utility bills subsidies for military personnel are meant to attract more people to the services.
“Utility bill subsidies for soldiers are more or less symbolic, because, on average, a household will get about NT$300 in electricity subsidy, and about NT$80 in water subsidy,” he said. “The purpose of the subsidies is to encourage more people to serve in the military.”
In a separate news conference, the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) caucus also urged the government yesterday to come up with a more stable way of subsidizing utility bills for the physically challenged.
“When electricity prices go up, Taiwan Power Co [Taipower] — which will directly benefit from the price hikes — should be more socially responsible, such as by giving more discounts to the physically challenged who need to rely on life support machines 24 hours a day,” said KMT Legislator Chen Shu-huey (陳淑慧).
“If Taipower takes responsibility, the MOI might save some of its budget to benefit more people in need,” Chen added.
KMT Legislator Yang Yu-hsin (楊玉欣), meanwhile, urged the MOI to find a long-term source of income for subsidizing utility bills for the disabled, “so that other welfare spending does not have to be compromised.”