Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) yesterday said that the council would propose an amendment to require elderly farmers to have engaged in active farming for at least six years before they can join the farmers’ insurance system and become eligible for the elderly farmers’ subsidies.
Last week, the Control Yuan rebuked the Executive Yuan, the council and the Ministry of the Interior, for having for overly lax qualifications regarding eligibility for elderly farmers’ monthly subsidies –— for which farmers older than 65 are eligible once they have paid into the farmers’ insurance system for at least six months and own at least 0.1 hectares of farmland.
Whether the farmers engage in farming is not taken into account.
The system has led to exorbitant expenditure, contravenes the original spirit of the pension, has caused an unbalanced deployment of social welfare, eaten into budgets for agricultural development and increased the nation’s economic burdens, the Control Yuan said.
It also said that since the elderly farmers’ pension was initiated in 1995, in accordance with the Temporary Statute Regarding the Welfare Pension of Senior Farmers (老年農民福利津貼暫行條例), the number of farmers receiving subsidies has increased from about 360,000 to about 680,000 last year, pushing expenditure to about NT$49.6 billion (US$1.7 billion) each year.
At a meeting of the Legislative Yuan’s Economics Committee yesterday to review the council’s budget, several legislators criticized the council for the loose standards of the farmers’ pension system and asked the minister for solutions.
Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Ting Shou-chung (丁守中) questioned how the council could promote agricultural development when it spends about NT$49.6 billion on elderly farmers’ subsidies and NT$11.3 billion on fallow farmland subsidies each year — about NT$61 billion on subsidies alone, which accounts for nearly 86 percent of the council’s budget.
Among the 160,000 farmers that have applied for the fallow land subsidy, 58 percent are not qualified to join the farmers’ insurance system he said, adding that he suspects some of these “farmers” are only keeping their land to earn a living solely through subsidies.
Other legislators questioned how many farmers receiving the elderly farmers’ subsidy were engaged in farming, and urged the council to carry out a thorough check of farmers’ qualifications.
Chen said that while the fallow farmland revitalization project is scheduled to begin next year, the council will submit a proposal in the next legislative session to change regulations to require elderly farmers to have been members of the farmers’ insurance system for at least six years to qualify for a subsidy.