China to brighten bleak New Year with cash gifts

Fri Jan 9, 2009 5:35am EST
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BEIJING (Reuters) - China will give its neediest citizens hand-outs of up to 180 yuan ($26) to brighten their mood before the Chinese New Year, a usually festive occasion that has been marred by the economic downturn.

The Ministry of Finance, which announced the one-off payment totaling some $1.3 billion on its website Friday, also said the money would help stimulate domestic consumption, Beijing's overarching goal as it seeks to revive the once-roaring economy.

The pay-outs ranging from 100 to 180 yuan would mainly go to laid-off workers and veteran Communist Party members living in straitened circumstances. Overall, the government said it would distribute 9 billion yuan to about 74 million citizens.

It added that the money must reach their hands before the Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, which begins on January 26 and is traditionally a time for buying new clothes and gifts for the family.

In announcing the bust of New Year's generosity, the civil affairs ministry also said that China was committed this year to increasing welfare payments for the country's poorest.

Rising unemployment has fed Beijing's fears of unrest as the country's economy slows abruptly after nearly two decades of sizzling growth.

($1=6.833 Yuan)

(Reporting by the Beijing newsroom; Editing by Simon Rabinovitch)