By THE NATION
In fact, the amount would have been higher if some ATMs in the provinces had not run out of banknotes.
The government has earmarked Bt5.66 billion for the New Year cash gift initiative, giving the 11.3 registered low-income earners Bt500 each. The payments began on Saturday.
“Between December 8 and 10, some 4.6 million registered low-income earners have withdrawn their entitlement, which has been worth Bt2.3 billion,” Suttirat Rattanachot, director-general of the Comptroller-General’s Department, said. “Some 850,000 others have opted for Bt500 shopping vouchers at blue-flag shops, and their spending has totalled Bt425 billion in the first three days.”
She explained that this means Bt2.73 billion has been withdrawn in cash.
People earning no more than Bt100,000 a year have been registered as low-income earners and given a welfare card, which gives them access to several benefits. The Bt500 New Year gift is just one of the many benefits the government has planned for the low-income group.
Since the Bt200-Bt300 monthly shopping allowance granted to the low-income group disappears at the end of each month if it is not used, welfare-card holders have been rushing to claim their New Year’s gift. They fear their gift too will disappear if not claimed before December 31, which explains the long queues in front of participating ATMs.
However, queues seemed to ease a bit yesterday after Finance Minister Apisak Tantivorawong announced “we won’t take it back” to allay their fears.
In Sa Kaew province, 67-year-old Thon Yothin waited patiently in a long queue in front of the province’s only participating ATM.
“Some people have come here with 30 to 40 welfare cards, which is why the queue is moving so slowly,” he said, adding that he had come to the ATM on Monday evening, only to find it had run out of banknotes.
“We have already asked for a mobile ATM. It should arrive next week,” Suthara Wassanawat, manager of Krungthai Bank’s Sa Kaew branch, said.
In many provinces, police have had to step in to keep a eye on things in front of ATMs after learning that a 79-year-old man in Suphan Buri lost his Bt500 to a woman who offered to help withdraw the money and then walked away with it.
In a related development, Apisak ordered the Fiscal Policy Office to investigate a woman who had been wearing gold when she went to withdraw her Bt500 gift, and caused an uproar online, with people saying she looked rich and did not deserve the many freebies offered by the state.