Central and local governments will plough more than 7 billion yuan into the rural subsistence allowance system this year, a senior official said yesterday.
The money will be used to help the country's 20.68 million-plus rural poor.
Vice-minister of civil affairs Li Liguo said in an online interview at the government's website (www.gov.cn) that the system had already been set up in the country's 31 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities.
All qualified and needy rural residents should be incorporated into the program by the end of the year, he said.
The conditions for realizing this state objective are now ripe, Li said.
At the end of 2005, there were 23.65 million people living in rural areas on an annual per capita income of less than 683 yuan (US$90), according to the State Council Leading Group of the Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development.
The rural poverty line rose slightly to 693 yuan last year, but more up-to-date official statistics are not yet available.
In the past, local administrations operated their own social security systems, until the uniform national system was piloted in selected provinces. By the time of last December's central agricultural meeting, during which the State formalized for the first time the goal of establishing a nationwide scheme for the rural poor, it was already up and running in 24 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities, Li said.
The undertaking was carried into this year in both words and action.
Premier Wen Jiabao's comment in March that the system "has great and far-reaching significance for promoting social fairness and building a harmonious society" was simultaneous with the central government's approval of a 3 billion-yuan budget for subsidizing the rural poor - the first time in history.
Under the current scheme, all applications for the allowance are strictly supervised. Each applicant's annual income is first determined by a village committee, then examined by town governments and county-level civil affairs departments, which have the authority to approve the submission if all requirements are met, Li said.
He said that once the subsistence allowance for the rural poor was fully established, the government's next goal will be to develop a universal social security system designed to raise living standards for all Chinese by 2020.
(China Daily August 1, 2007)