Council of Agriculture (COA) Minister Chen Bao-ji (陳保基) yesterday staked his job on the passage of a draft amendment to the Provisional Regulations Governing the Old-Age Farmers’ Welfare Allowance Program (老年農民福利津貼暫行條例) as he seeks to crack down on welfare fraud.
Chen was fielding questions from Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) Legislator Huang Chao-shun (黃昭順) at a meeting of the legislature’s Economics Committee yesterday, hours before the Social Welfare and Environmental Hygiene Committee was to review the bill.
“The council is allocated an average annual budget of NT$124 billion [US$4.12 billion], but as much as 64 percent, or NT$82.2 billion, of that goes to the Old-Age Farmers’ Welfare Allowance Program and other subsidy schemes,” Chen said. “There will be no future for the nation’s agricultural industry unless we push for reforms.”
If passed, the draft amendment would extend from six months to 15 years the amount of time that farmers will have had to have been part of the Farmers’ Health Insurance program to be eligible for the NT$7,000 monthly welfare subsidy.
If enacted, the draft amendment is expected to save the council NT$46 billion over 15 years, or about NT$3 billion per annum, aside from helping prevent anyone from taking advantage of the program, the council said.
However, opposition parties said that the draft amendment was an insult to elderly farmers.
“The Executive Yuan is using ‘sham farmers’ taking advantage of the subsidies as a pretext to push for the new regulations, which is not only slanderous toward the nation’s hardworking farmers, but also demonstrates the Cabinet’s attempt to take the easy way out and shirk its responsibility,” Democratic Progressive Party spokesman Lin Chun-hsien (林俊憲) told a press conference yesterday morning.
Lin added that what the government should do instead of revising the eligibility requirements for the allowance is conduct regular on-site inspections to verify the identities of subsidy recipients and build a comprehensive database of farmers to facilitate the verifications.
“Amending the regulations as proposed would be akin to putting the cart before the horse. The Democratic Progressive Party will do whatever it takes to boycott the draft amendment,” Lin said.