Dongguan's Hardship Allowance for the Marginalized

By Yang Xingyun
Published: 2008-07-22

From nation, page 13, issue no.376, July 14, 2008
Translated by Ren Yujie
Original article
: [Chinese]

What is a "marginalized household"?

That very question was hampering the delivery of a hardship subsidy running into millions of yuan in China's southern city of Dongguan recently.

The City's municipal authorities had in early June announced the spending of 120 million yuan to provide a one-off cash subsidy - termed a "temporary living subsidy" - worth 1,000 yuan each person to those from lower income households in view of the rising costs of living.

By early July, however, the authorities had only dispersed 741.51 million yuan of the fund. The EO learned that a delay in distribution occurred due to difficulties in identifying qualified recipients for one of the eight categories outlined by the authorities.

The target groups included those under the minimal subsistence allowance system, the rural basic living guaranty system, disabled persons, senior citizens without next of kin or who have been widowed, abandoned children, recovered leprosy patients, and those of marginalized households.

For the last group on the list, the authorities set that households with a per-capital income between 401 and 600 yuan would qualify, yet in the process of implementation, the requirement for supporting documents posed a problem.

Ascertaining Marginalized Households
Wu Lijun, the director of Social Affairs Office in Wangjiang district of Dongguan city, said locals who fell under the "marginalized household" were usually without a stable job, thus, unable to present proper pay slips to support their claims for the subsidy.

In addition, the local government also lacked a standard and mechanism to check the income of those holding odd jobs, he said. 

To solve the puzzle, Wanjiang district had come up with a "vertical mechanism" to draw up a name list of potential candidates qualified for the subsidy, added Wu.

Under the mechanism, his office would first liaise with individual housing community's resident committee, who would be trusted with surveying families in their respective jurisdiction to come up with a name list. The list would later be submitted to the officials for further investigation, after which a reviewed list would be sent to the resident representative commission for feedback. The final name list would then be displayed publicly for 15 days, and if no objection was raised, the list would be approved.   
"We have opted for a suggested list to identify qualified candidates instead of having an open application process, which might cause a rush and complicate things, and draw more resources to check on each and every person who applied," explained Wu.

He said Wanjiang district had drawn up a list of criterion for survey and investigation. For example, households with children attending costly private schools would be disqualified immediately; so were families who had in recent years received over a few hundred thousands of yuan in relocation compensation and those who had violated the family planning policy in the past 5 years.

Liang Huifen, who oversaw civil affairs in the residence committee of Xiaoheng community, Wangjiang District, showed the EO a list of 19 items in the above-mentioned identification standard. However, she felt that the criterion was still open for interpretation, which had led to various implementations.

Consequently, some communities submitted a name list that covered up to  90% of the residents in their respective areas. For instance, in a village named Nizhou with a population of 3,690, the name list actually included 3,400 people, according to civil affairs officer Chen Jinming.

A village leader who requested anonymity said since the subsidy was deemed a "free gift" from the local treasury, everyone wanted a share in it, adding he would rather submit a comprehensive name list than offend fellow villagers.

Though admitting there were incidents of locals clashing to fight for the subsidy and discrepancies in implementation, Dongguan Civil Affairs Bureau director Zheng Wenhui said such incidents were not widespread.

He added the identification problem could still be overcome by investing more time and resources in the verification process.

"New Dongguan resident" Excluded
Dongguan is a city of migrants attracted by abundant job opportunities in prospering industries. Since last year, as a sign of recognition for the contribution of migrant residents, the local government has coined the term "new Dongguan resident" to refer to them.

Yet, the latest round of subsidy distribution excluded these "newcomers".

Wang Weihong, 37, from Hunan province has worked in Dongguan for over 12 years. His whole family also resides in the city. He said he felt hurt for being excluded -- not for the money, but for recognition.

"Haven't we contributed to Dongguan's development?" he asked.

Wu Lijun, director of Wangjiang district social affairs office, justified the local authorities' decision by saying that "new Dongguan residents" move around more frequently, and that added to difficulties in identifying and checking on their status.

Some local officials expressed worries that if mishandled, the subsidy distribution could trigger social conflicts.

Against the backdrop of rising costs, if only a portion of people received the money and the standard differed from place to place, local authorities would be accused of being unfair, one official said.

Based on statistics from Dongguan municipality up to mid-July, the amount of qualified candidates had reached some 160,000 people, some 40,000 more than initialy planned. Local authorities intended to double the amount of funding.