Lee renews call for universal COVID-19 relief grants

SEOUL-- Lee Jae-myung, the presidential candidate of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), on Wednesday renewed his call for providing COVID-19 relief grants to all people, saying it is an effective way to help pandemic-hit small businesses.

"Basically, all people have suffered (from COVID-19), so opportunity should be given to all of them," Lee told reporters after a campaign event in Gwangju, 330 kilometers southwest of Seoul. "I am not saying it needs to be done immediately but in principle it is the right way."

Lee had stopped calling for giving relief grants to all people after the government repeatedly expressed opposition over concerns of fiscal soundness.

But the former Gyeonggi governor recently brought back his proposal, claiming it actually helps small merchants more, considering the multiplier effect.

In his press conference for the new year Tuesday, Lee said he believes drawing up an extra budget of up to 30 trillion won (US$25 billion) before the end of January is possible to fund his scheme.

The DP also has been pushing for a supplementary budget but said it is first thinking of supporting pandemic-hit small businesses.

"We do not know whether extra budgets will be drawn up one time or two, but I just want to say that we should create an extra budget first to spend on the urgent matter, and then expand it if we can afford it," he said. "But this is an issue in which the government and parties need to first gather opinions, so I cannot decide on my own.""

Regarding his election pledge of including hair loss drugs in the national health insurance coverage, Lee said he is looking into the issue with seriousness.

"In terms of bodily integrity, I believe hair loss should be a subject for the national health insurance coverage," he said. "Our policy unit is currently reviewing related issues, such as the financial burden of the program and coverage limits, in detail."

Meanwhile, Lee stressed unity and solidarity in his campaign event with former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon in the liberal stronghold of Gwangju.

The two, who were rivals in the DP primary, last month agreed to co-head a "state vision and national unity committee" inside Lee's campaign.

Lee's move came as Yoon Suk-yeol of the main opposition People Power Party (PPP) announced the dissolution of his campaign committee amid a power struggle within the party.

Source: Yonhap News Agency