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Thailand trying to stimulate economy by giving cash to poor

Associated Press Associated Press 22/11/2016

BANGKOK — Thailand's military government on Tuesday approved a one-time payout for low-income people in an effort to stimulate the country's weak economy.

People who make less than 30,000 baht ($846) a year will receive 3,000 baht ($86), while people who make 30,000 to 100,000 baht ($846 to $2,821) a year will receive 1,500 baht ($42).

The measure was approved at the weekly Cabinet meeting, but no date was set for its implementation.

The payments are earmarked for 5.8 million people, excluding rice farmers. They will instead benefit from a recently approved $1.5 billion government subsidy paying them to temporarily store their rice so that supplies and prices of the country's staple crop remain stable.

The new cash handout plan will be used in accordance with other measures to help low-income people, such as free public transportation services.

"Don't think the government is just giving out free money," Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said. "This is a way to support those of low-income in other professions other than farmers because I care for people of all professions."

The rice subsidy has been criticized because it resembles a program for which former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is being tried on grounds of corruption, which she denies. She has also been ordered to pay 35.7 billion baht ($1 billion) to compensate the government for its alleged losses.

Critics of the junta, which came to power by staging a coup against Yingluck's Pheu Thai Party-led government in May 2014, say it is simply emulating populist policies it had criticized civilian politicians for enacting.

Economic growth has stagnated under the junta. Prayuth said he hopes the cash handouts will be spent and will help boost the economy. Consumer spending has dropped since King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on Oct. 13, initiating a year of mourning for the government and curtailing public entertainment events in the month since his death.

Prayuth also said the minimum wage would rise in 2017.

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