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Chuseok costs burden people with disabilities

Sept 29,2017
Lee Seong-gu, who has a first-degree brain lesion, is worried about spending large sums to pay her activity assistant expensive holiday rates during the upcoming Chuseok holidays.

The 59-year old Lee hurt her cervical vertebrae when she fell from a rock on Mount Suraksan 14 years ago. As a result, she became paralyzed from the neck down and is currently living on government support.

From 2007, the Korean government began providing personal assistant services to people with disabilities.

In January 2011, it passed the Act on Activity Assistant Services for Persons with Disabilities, through which it granted people with disabilities vouchers they could spend on requesting services ranging from in-home nursing to domestic assistance.

The average allowance given to each beneficiary is 1,129,000 won ($984) per month. Every time a voucher is used to enlist the services of an activity assistant during weekday working hours, 9,240 won is deducted from the monthly allowance, while 13,860 won is deducted when services are requested between 10pm and 6am on weekdays and during holidays.

According to the Ministry of Health and Welfare, some 70, 000 people with severe disabilities were using these vouchers in July 2017.

Though many welcome the long Chuseok holidays, people with disabilities like Lee see the long holidays more as a cause for worry than celebration.

This is because vouchers used during the holidays will deduct more from their monthly allowance.

People with disabilities are already dreading the possibility of having to wash or leave their home without the help of their assistants when they run out of funds to spend on vouchers after the holidays.

Addressing these concerns, the Ministry of Health and Welfare proposed to “allow beneficiaries to employ assistant services on Sept. 2 (Monday) and Sept. 6 (Friday) at weekday rates,” but some still complain that this is not enough.

Lee said she usually finds the monthly allowance insufficient to pay for an adequate number of assistant support hours, let alone during the holidays.

Minus the fees that she pays to her assistant, Lee lives on the money she receives from her national pension combined with the wages her husband, who has fifth-degree epilepsy, earns working as a security guard.

Lee, who can barely move her neck, earned a degree in social welfare from an online university along with certificates in social welfare and consulting work. She sometimes provides consultation services at the welfare center for people with disabilities in her neighborhood.

Lee lamented, “I had worked hard to be where I am, and the fact that I cannot receive sufficient activity assistance is making things really difficult now.”

Muscle Disease Association representative Jeong Young-man also complained that “people with disabilities who live by themselves fall off their beds and can’t get up until the next morning because they cannot afford to pay for more assistant service hours.”

“Because we have a long holiday season coming up, there will be people who will not be able to afford assistant services by the end of the month,” Jeong continued.

BY YU SUNG-KUK [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]