＜COVID-19＞Statement calling for the flexible operation of the public assistance system and its active use as a special measure during the period until the convergence of the spread of the novel coronavirus
On April 7, 2020, the Japanese Government declared a State of Emergency over seven prefectures in accordance with the Act on Special Measures for Pandemic Influenza and New Infectious Diseases Preparedness and Response. This was later expanded on May 16 to include the whole nation, while also being extended until May 31 on May 4. This has resulted in a growing number of people suffering from reduced or lost work and income, with some people also facing poverty as a result of the need to refrain from conducting business or leaving their homes. Given the continuing need to refrain from conducting business and leaving homes even after the end of the State of Emergency, it is predicted that over time, the number of people facing poverty will increase dramatically in the future.
The public assistance system is designed to cope with this poverty. However, notices issued by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare (“Standards for Provision of Public Assistance”) pose as significant barriers to the use of the public assistance system in Japan, such as by the imposition of strict asset requirements and investigations of persons obligated to provide support. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare has, upon the Declaration of the State of Emergency, already sent out several administrative communications which have increased the flexibility and improved the operation of the public assistance system, such as suspending investigations into an applicant’s ability to work and providing guidance to employed or self-employed applicants whose incomes have decreased, which are welcome developments. However, it still must be said that such measures are only partial improvements as measures to be taken in the current emergency.
Temporary guarantees of income may be sufficient to survive emergencies, however, in order to ensure the livelihoods of many who will be able to return to their original lives after the spread of infection has converged, it would be beneficial to drastically alleviate, albeit if temporarily, the various barriers to the utilization of public assistance mentioned above as an extraordinary measure in the current unusual circumstances. This will ease the administrative burden of welfare offices, which have faced personnel shortages even in ordinary times, and will also result in the swift provision of aid to the livelihoods of those facing poverty while preventing the spread of the infection among employees and applicants.
Therefore, this Federation calls on the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare to disseminate information to eliminate misunderstandings and prejudices about the public assistance system and to promote its active use. In addition, as a special measure for a certain period of time until the spread of the novel coronavirus converges, to issue administrative notices on the following points that drastically improve the flexibility of the operations of the public assistance system, thereby allowing for its active use:
1. Allow web applications, in order to alleviate the burden of interview services, prevent the spread of infection, and expedite the provision of public assistance, as was allowed for the application for business continuity aid;
2. Interpret that the “urgent circumstances " of Article 4.3 of the Public Assistance act is met and to conduct the applications for public assistance only from the perspective of the income standard during the effective period of the State of Emergency and for a certain period afterwards;
3. Revise the current operation in such cases, where only 50% of minimum living expenses are allowed as cash savings at the time of commencement of public assistance and allow applicants to possess at least three months’ worth of living expenses as cash savings.
4. Revise operation that allows automobiles to be possessed only under strict requirements and allows for their use only for job-seeking activities or other similar activities for those who are unemployed or absent from work and have been permitted to own automobiles;
5. Revise operation that, in principle, does not allow public assistance for those with housing loans, and allow for provision of public assistance similarly to cases in which the payment of loans has been deferred;
6. Revise operation that allows for the application mutatis mutandis of public assistance only to foreign nationals with certain categories of status of residence, and allowing the application mutatis mutandis of the same regardless of whether a status of residence exists or the category under which it has been granted, taking into account the difficulties faced by those trying to return to their home countries;
7. Conduct investigations of persons under a duty to support the applicant only after urgent circumstances have ceased, and to revise the operation whereby investigations are abbreviated only for those who “obviously cannot be expected to fulfill their duties to provide support” while deeming it sufficient to conduct investigations of those who “obviously can be expected to fulfill their duties to provide support”; and
8. Revise operations where applicants without residence are placed in a free or low-cost accommodation or similar facilities, so that in principle, applicants, as set forth in Article 30 of the Public Assistance Act, are allotted individual residences and are allotted private rooms in hotels or other similar facilities even while waiting for such individual residences to be procured.
May 7, 2020
Japan Federation of Bar Associations