Chilean government extends hardship payments once more

05/13/2021 | 05:59pm

SANTIAGO, May 13 (Reuters) - Chile's government has proposed an expansion of its emergency aid program for families impoverished by the COVID-19 pandemic as President Sebastian Pinera seeks to answer an opposition call for a universal basic income.

Finance minister Rodrigo Cerda said the government would introduce a bill in Congress in the coming days to extend its Emergency Family Income (IFE) to 90% of Chilean households.

At present, the IFE involves a monthly payment of 100,000 pesos ($142) per household member and covers 13 million of inhabitants of the South American country.

Cerda said the amount of the payout would be increased to ensure it put people above the poverty line for monthly expenses. According to government reports, in March the individual poverty line was 176,201 pesos (about $250).

"We will move toward a universal Emergency Family Income that reaches 100% of the families on the social registry of households, which excludes only the 10% of families with highest incomes in our country," Cerda said.

Large areas of Chile have been returned to strict lockdowns since March after a second wave of COVID-19 infections hit, deepening hardship already wrought by the pandemic.

Opposition parties have pushed three drawdowns from private pensions through Congress with backing from some government lawmakers, arguing that aid announced by President Sebastian Pinera is mired in red tape and not reaching enough people.

Cerda said that the state had the financing necessary to fund an expanded program thanks to a rise in the price of copper, the country's key export, which has been driven by post-COVID recovery in China.

"If it is necessary to increase the country's debt levels in a way that's reasonable we will do it. Also we have treasury assets we can use," he added. (Reporting by Fabian Cambero, writing by Aislinn Laing; Editing by Dan Grebler)

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