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Japan gov't coronavirus cash handout may arrive sooner if applying by mail

An official, right, at the Higashi Ward office in the southwestern Japan city of Fukuoka, holds a panel saying there is a four-hour wait to reset one's "My Number" card password, in Higashi Ward, Fukuoka, on May 8, 2020. (Mainichi/Yuta Hiratsuka)
Staff deal with inquiries about the 10,000-yen cash handouts from the national government at Nara City Hall in Nara on May 7, 2020. (Mainichi/Yusuke Kato)

TOKYO -- The start, in some parts of Japan, of the online application period for the government's 100,000-yen "special cash payment" for all residents to soften the economic fallout of the novel coronavirus has people scrambling to reset their "My Number" passcodes, but people may receive the money sooner if they wait to apply by mail, it has emerged.

Local municipal offices are being flooded with residents seeking to get their My Number social security and tax cards or reset their passcodes because they've forgotten them. It has also been difficult to access the government website "Mynaportal," through which residents apply online for the cash handout.

But as it turns out, even if residents are able to get onto the website and apply, there is no guarantee that they will receive the cash sooner than those who apply through the mail, as the procedures that are taken after online applications are submitted are all handled by hand anyway by officials working in local governments.

The online application process for the 100,000-yen cash handouts entails accessing Mynaportal, connecting one's My Number card to one's computer with a card reader, and typing in the name, birthdate, and address of the head of the household, as well as the names of the members of the household who request the cash handout, among other pieces of information. A document that provides proof of one's bank account must be attached. Typing in the passcode for the digital signature certificate completes the process.

However, an application can go through even if someone who is not the head of the household submits the online application or if the bank account information is wrong. Municipalities where online applications started on May 1 have said that they have had people seek advice because a child of theirs had applied. There have also been cases reported of out-of-ward residents applying to a ward office for the cash handout. Officials, therefore, must confirm that all the information they are receiving is correct.

In Tokyo's Shinagawa Ward, where the number of online applications had exceeded 9,000 by May 11, ward staff are downloading application information that has been submitted, and are visually cross-checking the information with the Basic Resident Register to make sure there are no errors in the applicants' names or birthdates.

To prevent making bank transfers to the same people twice, the resident register code of each member of a household seeking the handout is entered into a computer system by hand, and account information is cross-checked with paperwork attached to the online application. Bank names are often written in their old form, or there are no spaces between words where there should be, and these errors are corrected one by one. This checking process is carried out by four to five groups of two people each, and only about 1,000 cases can be processed per week. Since decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, it is not a job that just anyone can do, meaning it is not easy to increase the number of people working on it.

The application forms to apply for the handouts via mail are slated to be sent out starting May 21. Processing such applications will require entering bank account information written on the application by hand into a computer system, but since that itself is simple, it is expected that 21,000 cases could be processed per week with some 60 staff working per day.

In the case of mail-in applications, there are fewer sections that must be filled out by the applicant than in the case of online applications. The application forms that are sent to each household already have the name of the head of the household and the members of the household printed on them. Applicants only need to put a check next to the names of household members who don't request the handouts, fill out their bank account information, and send the form back.

"In some cases, it's possible that the provision of benefits could be faster when applying via mail," said Kiyoshi Terashima, head of the Shinagawa Ward welfare planning section.

In Tokyo's Minato Ward, too, the same work is being done on the nearly 10,000 online applications that have been submitted. The My Number card has basic information such as one's name, address and birthdate on it. So why does that information have to be cross-checked with information from the Basic Resident Register?

"Because there's no way to tie the information from the Basic Resident Register to the applications. We've commissioned a company to develop a system that automatically cross-checks the information, but it takes time," a ward official explained. "What's online is just the submission part, and everything else is pretty much done by hand."

A city official from the Kanagawa Prefecture city of Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, which has approximately 160,000 households, lamented, "We have no idea what will happen going forward," while a city official from Fukuoka in southwestern Japan said, "We want people to consider going the mail application route."

(Japanese original by Aya Shiota, Integrated Digital News Center)

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