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Heilongjiang starts limited subsidy program amid calls for wider coverage
A program in Heilongjiang province is subsidizing some one-child parents in urban areas for their contribution to the family planning policy.
The parents must be older than 60 to qualify for the subsidy, introduced in June, provincial family planning director Jia Yumei said.
Only parents employed in private businesses or the unemployed are eligible for the one-time subsidy of 3,000 yuan ($470) for each parent, she said.
"These benefits for families should be integrated into the policy itself, particularly as the public are more aware of their rights, including childbearing," Jia told China Daily.
There is no clearly defined national regulation or policy regarding a subsidy for elderly single-child urban parents, said Lu Jiehua, a sociology professor at Peking University.
The government will constantly enhance benefits for families that adhered to the one-child policy, particularly as they approached retirement age, said Zhao Yanpei, director of the department of policy and legislation at the National Population and Family Planning Commission.
China has about 100 million families with just one child, and 70 to 80 percent of these families live in rural areas, according to the commission.
However, "very few places, like Heilongjiang, give subsidies to urban dwellers", Lu pointed out. "Urban couples have, in fact, done most to support the policy and should be equally supported by the government especially as they approach old age." But he pointed out that it was hard for the government to allocate funds to support such a large group of people given the imperative of economic growth.
"We didn't expect such a subsidy but are happy to receive it as a show of respect," said Ni Guoqing, a retired civil servant in Xi'an, capital of Shaanxi province.
Starting in 2011, the provincial government began to give out a monthly subsidy of 106 yuan to all retired parents in urban areas who had just one child.
"After handing in our single-child certificate, my wife and I began to receive the subsidy from our work units," Ni said. "We don't count on the money but it might be of great help to some people who are struggling and they deserve that."
Lu said the initiative was "another major breakthrough after the government began to give financial support in 2003 for parents older than 55 in rural areas who followed the family planning policy".
Rural areas traditionally had little in terms of social welfare and insurance and people tended to rely on children to look after them in their old age, according to Lu.
Yuan Xin, a professor at Nankai University's population and development institute in Tianjin, expressed optimism that the program will expand.
"More government policies and measures favorable for all single-child families, regardless of their residence, will be introduced," he said.
Li Bin, former head of the National Population and Family Planning Commission, said previously that those who put the country's interest first, in answering the government's call to have only one child, should be taken care of and rewarded.
"But we have to consider the economic situation as well," she said.
China's family planning law, issued in 2001, recognized such policies. Apart from the decades-old policy to give a single-child subsidy, 5 yuan a month, which ends when the child reached 14, other policies have been gradually introduced, according to Yuan.
Lu, however, urged policymakers to adjust the sum to reflect present-day reality.
A special subsidy was introduced in 2007 for single-child parents whose children died or suffered disability through birth or accident.
Last year, the commission and the Ministry of Finance jointly issued an official document which touched upon subsidies for elderly single-child parents in urban areas.
"That needs to be further strengthened and institutionalized as a supplement to the family planning policy," Lu urged.
"It also matters a lot to social stability," he stressed.
(China Daily 08/09/2012 page1)