The government will increase the monthly subsidies for elderly farmers to NT$6,316 (US$209) and adjust the subsidies every four years in accordance with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) announced yesterday, defending the government’s efforts to depoliticize the subsidies and prevent them from becoming a campaign issue.
Subsidies for farmers older than 65 are now NT$6,000 a month, and the NT$316 increase reflects the 5.27 percent average increase in the CPI during the past four years.
The government also plans to increase eight types of subsidies for the elderly, the disabled and low-income families, also in accordance with the CPI, Ma said.
“Farmers’ problems are my problems and taking care of farmers is taking care the most grassroots group of people,” he told a press conference.
The announcement about the latest increase to farmers’ subsidies came amid a bidding war between the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) over the issue ahead of January’s presidential and legislative elections.
While the DPP caucus proposed increasing the subsidy to NT$7,000, some KMT legislators backed a measure calling for NT$10,000 a month.
Ma yesterday cited figures and said that the Cabinet’s version was much fairer than the DPP’s, and he expected the latest subsidy plan to prevent farmers or other minority groups from becoming targets of “political bidding” during future elections.
According to the proposed plan, next year’s budget for farmers’ subsidies will be NT$51.9 billion, while the budget for the eight social welfare subsidies will be NT$79.9 billion, Ma said. This would represent an extra NT$6.8 billion next year for the two plans, Ma said, adding that it would benefit about 2.87 million people.
The plans are NT$1.4 billion less than the version proposed by the DPP and can take cover 700,000 more people, Ma said.
The plan will include an “anti-rich” clause, whereby applicants cannot have a non-agricultural annual income of more than NT$500,000 or own non-agricultural real estate worth NT$5 million or more.
The government will also give a subsidy to elderly farmers who rent land to farmers under the age of 55.
Ma said the “farm retirement pension” was aimed at encouraging younger farmers to join the industry and revitalizing farms that are not in use, while helping farmers who want to retire.
Ma said farmers who rent their land to younger people could receive a monthly pension of NT$2,000 per hectare — with a limit of three hectares.
Premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) said the Council of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Interior would send the new proposal to the Cabinet tomorrow for approval before being submitted to the legislature. The increased subsidies would take effect next year.
The DPP said the government’s scheme was not as well thought out as its own version, which reflected Ma’s lack of attention to the nation’s agricultural affairs.
“President Ma and the KMT have shown no sincerity toward farmers and always copy the DPP’s policies,” DPP spokesperson Chen Chi-mai (陳其邁) said, adding that the NT$316 subsidy increase was only a “symbolic gesture.”
The DPP’s proposal would raise the elderly farmers’ monthly subsidy by NT$1,000 and offer a farm retirement pension of NT$3,600 per hectare, as opposed to the KMT’s proposal of NT$316 and NT$800 respectively, Chen said.
The party has formulated a complete set of policies about agricultural subsidies, a farmers’ retirement program and improving the efficiency of agricultural land use to deal with food security, Chen said.
Chang added that the KMT was only trying to pander to farmers with its policies.
The DPP’s set of policies cover a variety of fronts, including capital, manpower, production and marketing, as well as land efficiency, he said, adding that “most of all, food security should be included as part of the national security and agriculture should be regarded as a public sector.”
Speaking at a campaign stop at Yilan yesterday, DPP Chairperson Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) said the agricultural sector should be “redefined as an integral part of Taiwan’s economy.”
Tsai said the government should put sufficient resources in to modernizing the sector, helping it with technology and marketing, and encourage young generation to work in the industry.
“The KMT does not care about agricultural development and farmers until election time,” DPP Legislator Wong Chin-chu (翁金珠) said.
“We would like to see an agricultural policy that works, but the KMT should stop copying the DPP’s platforms,” she said.
Former president Lee Teng-hui (李登輝) told reporters last night that the subsidy increase proposed by the Cabinet was “not enough.”
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