China will "soon" launch the minimum living subsidy mechanism in the countryside to help its poorest peasants as the system is already well established in urban areas, a civil affairs official said Wednesday.
"It won't be long until the mechanism to give minimum living allowance to the poorest peasants nationwide is established," said Wang Zhenyao, director of disasters and social relief department under the Ministry of Civil Affairs, without giving a specific timetable.
Wang said at a press conference that China has planned to expand the minimum living subsidy to the countryside to help those poorest rural groups to maintain their basic livelihood as "all eligible urban residents have been basically covered by the system. "
The minimum living subsidy program, a new system differing from the traditional social welfare measures in the old planned economy era, was first launched in Shanghai in 1993 to help urban needy people on a regular basis with fixed assistance funds.
It soon swept across urban areas in the world's most populous country during the late 1990s when large numbers of workers were laid off from state-owned enterprises.
However, the country's vast rural areas still find it hard to embrace the new system as officials said peasants had already " enjoyed their traditional assistance," which was usually handled on an irregular basis.
The ministry's latest statistics show only some 4.1 million rural residents in China have received their minimum living subsidy in regions where the system is now in place, with more than 30 million peasants still living under the abject poverty line set by the State Council, China's cabinet.
"Developed coastal areas like Shanghai, Zhejiang and Guangdong should establish their rural minimum living subsidy system as soon as possible," he said, adding that those underdeveloped regions should put in place a system to aid those poorest rural households.
Wang said the ministry had gathered enough information about the destitute rural households in preparation to extend a regular aid of a fixed amount to those needy peasants as a thorough investigation was completed this May.
The criteria of rural minimum living allowance vary from region to region in China.
For example, childless and infirm old persons can receive an annual per capita allowance of 1,000 yuan (US$120) in Guangdong, one of the richest provinces. The figure becomes 240 yuan (US$29) to 600 yuan (US$72) in the hinterland, especially in the western regions.
Wang said the budget for the urban minimum living subsidy would be 20 billion yuan (US$2.4b) this year while the assistance funds earmarked for helping the poorest rural households with their basic livelihood would also reach 20 billion yuan this year.
(China Daily October 9, 2003)