Kishida sidesteps criticism of cash handout policy change

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Tuesday sidestepped criticism of his government's decision to allow municipalities to allocate 100,000 yen ($880) in benefits to child-rearing households entirely in cash despite his original plan to give half in redeemable vouchers.
"Based on various opinions, we have made the program more flexible," Kishida said in parliament in response to questioning from Seiji Osaka, acting leader of the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.
Kishida's government had originally planned to first give 50,000 yen in cash and the remainder in vouchers later for children aged 18 or younger who live in households in which the primary earner's annual income is less than 9.6 million yen.
But the CDPJ called for the benefits to be paid entirely in cash, saying issuing vouchers will incur massive additional costs and add to the burden on local governments currently preparing to give booster shots for COVID-19.
Kishida said during a Budget Committee meeting in the House of Representatives that some municipalities want to use the advantages of vouchers and the central government will "respect such efforts" but he has effectively relented on CDPJ calls to allow the handouts to be cash-only.
The government has repeatedly said that giving half of the benefits in vouchers continues to be the government's basic plan as the use of vouchers would encourage households to spend the handouts instead of putting them in savings and reduce the chances of them being spent for purposes other than childrearing.
Economic revitalization minister Daishiro Yamagiwa said, "Even if giving out 100,000 yen in one go becomes accepted, we will maintain the principle of using vouchers," adding the government will be flexible in making further changes to the program if necessary.
The benefits program is one of the key measures in the government's stimulus package aimed at easing the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

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