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Food stamps given out to Taipei, Kaohsiung needy

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- The Taipei and Kaohsiung city governments have started distributing food vouchers to families that need immediate financial aid. The opposition Democratic Progressive Party wanted the central government to adopt the same practice for the whole nation.

The Kaohsiung City Government took the initiative to give 18 food stamps worth NT$60 each to 833 schoolchildren suffering from abuse and domestic violence on Jan. 20.

The children of elementary and junior high schools may use the coupons at 7-Eleven convenience stores when schools are closed for the long winter vacation.

The city government also began passing out food stamps worth NT$1,500 per month to 100 households on Thursday. The stamps can only be used at Aiguo (Patriotic) Supermarket in Kaohsiung before the end of February.

Officials said the programs were carried out with cooperation from various charity groups. The city government gave similar stamps to only 50 families before Chinese Lunar New Year last year.

But the number of needy families has increased sharply this year because of increasing unemployment, they said.

Taipei City decided to give merchandise vouchers worth NT$5,000 to families whose bread winners are deceased, missing or have sustained severe injuries.

The municipal government had planned to issue the coupons from March 1 to Dec. 31.

The li chiefs — aka as neighborhood chiefs — will first accept applications from needy families. The coupons will be given after the chiefs and representatives from welfare organizations complete joint verifications.

After holding a meeting with neighborhood chiefs yesterday, Mayor Hau Lung-bing decided to launch the program immediately so that the needy families can get instant financial relief.

More than 600 families filed applications for immediate aid with neighborhood chiefs as of yesterday afternoon.

DPP members in the city council criticized the plan as a measure to buy votes for future elections.

They also attacked the city government's regulation to allow the stamps to be used only at the FamilyMart convenience stores.

Officials explained that the stamps can only be spent on necessities like foods and beverages and not on tobacco and alcoholic drinks.

They defended that FamilyMart was chosen mainly because the chain store is willing to back the welfare program and promises to give extra incentives to the users of the stamps.

Cheng Wen-tsan, spokesman of the opposition DPP, said the central government should allocate special funds to expand the food stamp program to all needy families throughout Taiwan.

He said the administration of President Ma Ying-jeou has pinned its hope on the arrival of Chinese tourists and the distribution of shopping vouchers to every person to stimulate business activity.

However, both plans have failed to stem the economic downturn. He said Taiwan's jobless rate surged to a 62-month high of 5.03 percent in December and the problem will only worsen as research institutions have drastically lowered the economic growth projections for 2009.

Cheng said it is good for Kaohsiung, which is ruled by the DPP, and Taipei to adopt measures to provide special financial aid to people in need.

But many people living in other cities and counties also need urgent aid because they are in more dire situations, he added.

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