A large majority of municipalities that were hit by massive earthquakes and other disasters in recent years called for expanding the coverage of a law aimed at providing financial assistance for rebuilding damaged homes, a Mainichi Shimbun survey has learned.
The survey, conducted on Sept. 11, covered 61 cities, towns and villages in six prefectures that suffered enormous damage from the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the September 2015 Kanto-Tohoku floods and the April 2016 Kumamoto earthquakes. It found that 80 percent of those municipalities believe the Act on Support for Reconstructing Livelihoods of Disaster Victims should be revised, underscoring the fact that the law is not sufficiently catering to the needs of victims in disaster areas.
Under this law, up to 3 million yen each is provided to those whose homes were entirely destroyed in disasters, and those whose homes were partially damaged and require extensive repair work can also receive financial assistance. However, other partially damaged homes are not covered by the law. The most common answer among the disaster-hit municipalities was to update the law to provide aid to households whose homes were partially destroyed but are not covered by the law. The second most common response was to raise the amount of relief money provided to affected households. The central government, however, is reluctant to review the support law.
Specifically, the survey covered 12 municipalities in Iwate Prefecture, 15 in Miyagi Prefecture, 10 in Fukushima Prefecture, five in Ibaraki Prefecture, four in Tochigi Prefecture and 15 in Kumamoto Prefecture. Of them, 57 municipalities responded except for four municipalities that suffered extensive damage from Typhoon Lionrock.
Forty-nine municipalities responding to the latest survey said the support law needs to be improved. Asked to choose from eight options for improvement, 24 municipalities said the financial assistance should be expanded to cover those whose homes were partially damaged; 17 municipalities said the amount of financial relief should be raised; and nine municipalities called for flexibility in recognizing damage to residences.
The Tochigi Prefecture city of Nikko called for expanding the law's coverage to partially damaged houses, with a municipal government official saying, "There are partially destroyed houses whose status is infinitely close to damage requiring major repair work, and it is difficult to win victims' understanding just by drawing such a simple line." An official with the Iwate Prefecture city of Rikuzentakata said, "There is an enormous gap between households whose homes were partially damaged (and are thus cast out of the law) and other households that benefited from the support law."
In areas damaged by the 2011 disaster, the most common request for the central government was to raise the amount of financial assistance provided to affected households. Behind the results are rising costs due to the reconstruction boom in disaster areas. "Construction costs are skyrocketing," said an official with the Iwate Prefecture town of Yamada. As some victims lost all their furniture and other assets to tsunami, the Miyagi Prefecture city of Higashimatsushima proposed raising the amount of aid for those whose homes were swept away by tsunami.
Seven municipalities raised questions about the way subsidies are provided on a household-by-household basis under the law and the definition of households -- though these were not among prearranged response options. "The amount of subsidies provided to each household is the same regardless of the number of members in a household. If the law takes the number of family members into account, we can provide assistance for their livelihood reconstruction in accordance with the realities they face," said an official with the Kumamoto Prefecture city of Yatsushiro.
In the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake, around 400,000 homes were either completely or partially destroyed, according to the National Police Agency. Of them, only about 193,000 households were eligible to receive financial aid under the support law to rebuild or repair their homes.
Meanwhile, the Cabinet Office provided a negative view toward legal revision when it was reached by the Mainichi, saying, "Because financial resources are limited, we'd like to respond to the matter by supporting self-help efforts, such as promoting subscriptions to private insurance."