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Pres. Lee Urges More Help for Those Newly Poor

Posted February. 06, 2009 09:13,   


President Lee Myung-bak yesterday urged extra help to those who have fallen hard because of the economic downturn.

He visited the southern Seoul suburb of Anyang and convened the Meeting for Emergency Economic Measures at Call Center 129, a public telephone counseling body on health and welfare affairs.

In the meeting, President Lee underlined the importance of addressing “blind spots” for the new poor by telling the true story of a single-parent family who has been deprived of social benefits because their van is less than 10 years old.

“I heard about a mother and daughter who are not eligible for benefits from the Basic Livelihood Security System and the Mother and Child Health Act simply because they own an old van,” he said.

The president said he heard of the story in a letter he received from a third grader who is being raised by a single mother.

The president not only phoned the child while serving as a voluntary counselor at the call center yesterday, but also personally visited her home in Incheon.

The child was having a late lunch when President Lee entered her basement studio apartment in the afternoon. Wiping her mouth, the 11-year-old hastily greeted the president.

She was eating steamed rice in water. Kimchi was the only side dish on the table.

Her mother Kim Ok-rye, 52, got up from a bed made of iron angles and a matress. She has arthritis in her knees. Unlike most Korean homes, Kim’s family has no personal computer.

“The landlord told me to move out this month because I haven’t paid rent for five months,” Kim said. “I’m really nervous because it’s become increasingly difficult to find a job due to the economic slump.”

Kim lived with her husband, then a seller of heating oil for homes, in Namwon, North Jeolla Province. They got divorced after his business went bankrupt in April 2003.

Due to constant harrassment from creditors, Kim filed for bankruptcy and moved to Incheon, where her friend lived with her five-year-old daughter.

Fortunately, the church Kim attends loaned her two million won (1,446 U.S. dollars) to use as a security deposit for the small semi-basement room. The monthly rent is 220,000 won (159 dollars).

Kim then took on whatever work she can find, including odd jobs at construction sites and restaurants. Things hardly got better, however.

She went to a district office in August last year to apply for a single parent family program, which provides subsidies for living costs and school fees.

Kim’s application was rejected, however, because her 1999 six-seat van was less than 10 years old and because she drove it voluntarily for work instead of using it to earn money.

Her daughter sent a letter to the presidential office Jan. 16 without telling her mother.

“I’m writing this letter to you, Mr. President Grandpa, because I’m so heartbroken because of my mother, who cries because of job and housing matters and prays all night every day,” the four-page letter said.

The girl told of the hardships her family is facing. “I wish that my mom who is a good driver finds a job so that she no longer has to shed tears,” the letter said.

Maybe it was because of the letter that a district official visited Kim’s house Wednesday with a sack of rice and a box of noodles.

“If Kim sells her van, we will consider not only providing her livelihood subsidies, but also a leased apartment and a job through a self-support program,” the official said.

Kim eventually sold her van yesterday for 750,000 won (542 dollars).

Her daughter, the only hope Kim has, does well in school. She received perfect scores in all subjects in mid-terms and final exams last year.

Though Kim could not afford to buy books for her daughter since she started school, her grades have always stayed at the top. She borrows reference books and workbooks from an older student in her neighborhood or from the library.

Kim’s daughter said she also received a letter from the president in May last year. “I sent a letter to the president to cheer him up because he must’ve been hurt by the candlelight rallies,” she said.

“I will soon write a thank-you letter to Mr. President Grandpa who read my story from beginning to end.”

On what she wants to do first when her mother finds a job, she answered with a broad smile, “I’d like to eat jajangmyeon (Chinese noodles in black bean sauce) and fried chicken until I’m full.”