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An old man heads home from grocery shopping in Quarry Bay, Hong Kong on Sept 18, 2019. [Photo/Xinhua]

The Hong Kong government will allocate HK$10 billion in its regular expenditure — on top of previously announced measures — to relieve the hardships of senior citizens and low-income families hit by the economic downturn.

Announcing the latest relief package on Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the Normal Old Age Living Allowance and the Higher Old Age Living Allowance will be merged and all Hong Kong citizens aged 65 or above are entitled to receive the monthly HK$3,585 higher allowance. About 560,000 elderly people will be entitled to the higher allowance.

The cap of total asset value for an elderly person to apply for the allowance has also been increased to HK$500,000, Lam said.

The new scheme will cost the government HK$5 billion a year, Lam said.

Moreover, the SAR government will lower the age threshold from 65 to 60 for subsidies to ride public transport at HK$2 per trip. That contributes to an extra HK$1.7 billion government regular expenditure, Lam said.

Under the new scheme, 576,000 elderly people aged 60 to 64 will become eligible for the subsidy.

To improve labor"s benefits, the government has proposed to raise the Statutory Holidays, or labor holidays, from 12 to 17 days a year, Lam said.

At present, the statutory holidays for about 30 percent of workers in Hong Kong do not include Easter, Buddha"s birthday and the first weekday after Christmas Day.

Furthermore, under the Mandatory Provident Fund Schemes, the government will pay the 5 percent mandatory contributions for employees with a monthly salary below $HK7,100 at an estimated expenditure of HK$600 million.

Lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung from the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions, the city"s largest group representing the city"s labor sector, believes these targeted measures will help cope with demographic problems and the widening wealth gap.

To ensure an efficient implementation, Kwok suggested the government simplify application procedures for the new initiatives. This will not only help boost people"s willingness to participate, but will also help reduce the government"s administrative cost, he said.

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