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Parliament to pass 2013 gov't budget
SEOUL, Dec. 31 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's parliament was to pass next year's budget Monday that calls for free childcare services for all toddlers up to five years old and a general increase in welfare spending to lessen the burden for ordinary households across the country.

   The planned passage comes after the ruling Saenuri Party and main opposition Democratic United Party (DUP) agreed late last week to pass the 342.7 trillion won (US$321.3 billion) budget to permit the government to follow through on welfare pledges made by President-elect Park Geun-hye. The total represents a 200 billion won net increase from 342.5 trillion won forwarded by the government in September.

   The 60-year-old president-elect has made improving the livelihoods of ordinary people a key campaign pledge and stressed she will focus on bread-and-butter issues when she takes office on Feb. 25. Park who will become the country's first woman president said she will take steps to increase welfare outlays that are critical for reducing the burden of ordinary households.

   Free childcare will be provided to all newborns and children up to five years old regardless of household income levels. Government support will cover both child rearing expenses for kids who are looked after by parents at home and allowances given to people who send their kids to daycare centers. Lawmakers agreed to fully reflect the 1.4 trillion won extra money needed to help people cover childcare-related outlays.

   At present the government offers partial or full support to toddlers up to two years old, depending on the income level of parents.

   In addition to expanding universal childcare support, Saenuri and DUP lawmakers concurred on the need to set aside 1.02 trillion won to help reduce tuition costs for college students. Park had pledged to significantly reduce the country's excessive tuition burden ahead of the Dec. 19 presidential race and the April parliamentary election. This promise was also made by DUP presidential contender Moon Jae-in.

   On reducing the cost of tuition for students, parliament is moving to pass laws that would compel schools to provide more scholarships and to exempt students from paying interest on loans taken out to pay for educational costs while they are attending courses.

   Besides these areas, parliament will move to increase so-called basic old-age pensions given to senior citizens over 65 whose income are in the lower 70 percent bracket, as well as offering direct monetary support to veterans who fought in the Korean War (1950-53) or participated in the April 19 revolution in 1960 that led to the toppling of President Rhee Syngman's autocratic rule.