Japan's government and ruling parties are considering providing 100,000 yen ($880) each for children aged 18 or younger in an attempt to ease the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, sources close to the matter said Friday.
If all goes smoothly, the cash handout program will be included in a fresh economic stimulus worth "tens of trillions of yen" that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida plans to craft by mid-November. But some are cautious about giving that amount of money in cash regardless of income levels.
Without any conditions, up to 20 million children will be eligible for the benefit, which would require around 2 trillion yen at a time when Japan is already saddled with the most debt of any country, more than twice the size of its economy.
In addition, the government and the country's ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party are planning to give 30,000 yen each in effect to holders of "My Number" national identification cards in an attempt to spur consumption in the pandemic-hit economy, the sources said.
The measure is also aimed at promoting use of the unpopular ID card system. Komeito, the junior ruling coalition partner of the LDP, has sought for the government to provide 100,000 yen for all children aged 18 or younger under the economic package.
The two measures were included in Komeito's campaign promises for last Sunday's general election, in which the ruling coalition retained a comfortable majority in the House of Representatives.
As for the cash handout, options such as setting an income cap and giving part of the benefit in the form of coupons to cover child-rearing costs are on the table, given that most of the government's blanket cash handout of 100,000 yen last year is believed to have ended up in savings rather than spending.
The secretaries general of the LDP and Komeito are due to hold talks on Monday to speed up the process of designing such economic measures, according to the sources.
Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told a press conference on Friday that "between the ruling parties there are both overlapping and non-overlapping parts."
During campaigning for the general election, the LDP, headed by Kishida, vowed to help "people in need" such as non-regular workers and families with small children, but not many details were known.
For the program of My Number card holders, some 3 trillion yen will be needed to provide shopping points worth 30,000 yen per person for about 100 million people in Japan. At present, only about 40 percent of all the eligible 126.7 million of Japan's population, including foreign residents, have the cards.
The ID card system that started to be used in 2016 issues a 12-digit number to each citizen and foreign resident in the country to incorporate various personal data such as those related to taxes and social security.
The government has said the system will make a range of public services more convenient to use, but many people remain concerned about leakages of personal information.
As part of efforts to popularize the ID system, another government campaign to provide shopping points equivalent to 5,000 yen to each card holder has been under way, but it is scheduled to end in late December.
Other potential measures include a cash handout of 50,000 yen to deprived households being hit by the pandemic and support for the farming and fishing industries, as well as smaller businesses, which have been suffering from rising crude oil prices, according to the sources.
To finance the economic package, the government will draw up a supplementary budget for fiscal 2021 and seek to secure its parliamentary passage by the end of the year, with new government bonds likely to be issued to make up tax revenue shortfalls.