The government has announced that around 2.8 million eligible Hongkongers are to receive HK$4,000 under a new scheme. The move comes after its annual budget was criticised for excluding cash handouts amid a predicted HK$138 billion surplus.
Residents with ID cards who are over 18 by the end of the year, who do not own property, do not receive government benefits – including social security, old age living allowance, old age allowance, or disability allowance – and do not pay salaries tax can apply for the handout.
People who are also eligible to receive tax concessions under the annual budget will receive a handout after deducting their tax concessions from HK$4,000.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan said the new scheme shows the government’s goal of caring for the community.
“[We are] trying to cover more people who may not directly benefit from the budget,” he said at a press conference on Friday.
The government expects to spend around HK$11 billion on the scheme. The extra funds necessary will have to be approved by the Legislative Council.
Chan said the government will hire extra staff to handle administrative matters for the programme.
Asked by reporters, Chan said he would not promise that there will be similar handouts in the future.
Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said he could not give an exact date when residents could receive the benefits, but said he hoped it will happen before the next budget is issued.
Chan’s 2018 budget was criticised by many, including lawmakers from both camps, for neglecting specific groups, in particular low-income people who pay no taxes, do not own property and do not receive government benefits.
Asked if the new measure was made after receiving pressure from both camps, Chan responded that he said he would look into further measures two days after the budget was issued.
“[W]e mainly heard the voices in society, and we reflected calmly after listening to these voices and opinions. We agreed that the budget’s caring and sharing component could provide wider coverage,” he said.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To said he welcomed the new measure.
“We do not want the government to give cash handouts every year, but the original budget was unfair,” he said. “The Financial Secretary has to think about not giving land rates rebate to big corporations.”
Lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin of the FTU said he hoped nobody will be left out by the budget after the new measures are taken into account.
“It will be very embarrassing to fix the budget again,” he said.