Plans by the New Taipei City (新北市) Government to cooperate with convenience stores to supply food to underprivileged children under the age of 18 is not a political move, but one intended to better care for children in need, Mayor Eric Chu (朱立倫) said.
Chu made the remarks on Thursday in response to media comments that the move was meant to counter Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin’s (郝龍斌) recently publicized “Ten Great Projects in Taipei,” which some interpreted as his first salvo for a presidential bid in 2016. Both Chu and Hau, along with Vice President Wu Den-yih (吳敦義), are widely seen as the frontrunners for the Chinese Nationalist Party’s (KMT) presidential nomination.
The New Taipei City Government’s Education Bureau on Wednesday said it planned to work with 1,970 convenience stores across the city to provide NT$80 (US$2.75) in emergency food and drinks for each hungry child.
The bureau said the policy was aimed at countering the rising number of high-risk families, which has increased to 11,740 this year, from 2,426 in 2010.
Bureau Secretary-General Chi Shu-chuan (紀淑娟) said the policy seeks to help schoolchildren who find themselves without food after class, late at night or during holidays.
Education Department Commissioner Lin Teng-chiao (林騰蛟) said that funding for the program would come from donations and the department expects to budget upwards of NT$2 million per year, with an estimated monthly expenditure of NT$50,000.
Chu has praised the policy, saying that 24-hour convenience stores would be the first point of contact for children who are hungry because of family problems and can offer immediate relief in such cases.
The convenience stores can contact the Social Welfare Department or teachers after encountering such cases, Chu said, adding that the heads of police precincts and departments, teachers and social welfare department personnel should also make the stores a stop-by point to check if there are such cases.
However, the plan was criticized by the city council, with some councilors saying the city government’s unilateral announcement of the policy before approval of funding for the program showed a lack of respect for the council, while others said the policy was too rash.
Democratic Progessive Party (DPP) New Taipei City Councilor Shen Fa-hui ( 沈發惠) said the city government’s unilateral announcement left the council — which is currently in session — totally in the dark about the matter.
The phones were ringing off the hook, but not one of us knew what they were talking about, he added.
DPP City Council Caucus convener Ho Shu-feng (何淑峰) said the policy was rash and failed to take other factors into consideration.
KMT New Taipei City Councilor Hu Shu-jung (胡淑蓉) said that convenience stores have neither the civil authority nor the responsibility to decide which children need such help, adding that the responsibility of identifying a family as high-risk fell to the school.
In response, Chi said it is an emergency measure and not a comprehensive welfare policy to help the poor, adding that through such a program, the city government would also be able to find more high-risk families that have not been reported.
Additional reporting by Tseng Te-feng