A supplementary budget for fiscal 2020 of over 25 trillion yen, with 100,000-yen handouts to all residents of Japan as an economic measure to counter the effects of the novel coronavirus outbreak as its main pillar, was passed in the Diet.
Assistance for people facing straitened circumstances will begin to move forward, but the move comes far too late. It has been over two months since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested that the public refrain from holding and going to events, and that all elementary, junior high and high schools be closed nationwide.
It appears that the many of the one-off handouts will not reach members of the public until late May or later. We would like local municipal governments, which will serve as the intermediaries distributing these funds, to work as swiftly as possible.
But the national government must not leave the work entirely up to local governments; it must provide its full support.
There also is a need to rush through additional measures.
With the downturn in the economy, 260,000 non-regular jobs were lost in March alone. With the spread of the novel coronavirus, the health care system itself is in critical condition. Many argue that the supplementary budget is insufficient under the current circumstances.
The government is considering extending the period of the state of emergency it has called for all of Japan. If additional assistance measures fall behind, it could further jeopardize our lives and the health care system.
Rent assistance for retailers and restaurants that have had no choice but to suspend operations became a focus of Diet deliberations.
The government had explained that handouts of up to 2 million yen for small- to mid-sized businesses that were included in the budget were enough to cover rent. But to be eligible for such financial assistance, a business would have had to lose half of its sales — criteria that is far too exclusive.
The prime minister had expressed a positive attitude toward rent assistance. If the issue has been recognized as such an important one, then why wasn’t a comprehensive solution incorporated into the budget?
Some local governments are offering their own aid to businesses that have suspended operations as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. But many local governments do not have the fiscal strength to do so. The national government allocated 1 trillion yen of the budget to regional areas, but that is far from enough.
Additional cash handouts to low-income earners will likely be necessary. One option would be to collect a high rate of taxes from high-income earners who receive the 100,000-yen handout, and use that money to fund additional handouts for low-income earners.
The budget allocated to support medical facilities is even more meager.
The collapse of the health care system is a pressing issue. Not only the expansion of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing for the new coronavirus, but securing facilities to take in patients with mild symptoms, arranging for the use of ventilators and dispatching doctors are essential. And yet, only 149 billion yen has been allocated for all of this.
Meanwhile, over 10 times that amount — 1.7 trillion yen — has been allocated to the issuance of coupons and other measures encouraging consumption. Such items are unnecessary at a time when people are being urged to stay home.
The prime minister admitted in the Diet that Japan was behind in its PCR tests. The government must once again review projects that are non-essential, and dedicate itself to measures that protect people’s everyday lives and the health care system.