Photo/Illutration Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno, second from left, speaks on behalf of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at a March 22 meeting to approve measures to deal with surging consumer prices. Kishida was returning to Japan from a visit to Ukraine. (Koichi Ueda)

The government on March 22 approved a package of measures to deal with inflation through 2 trillion yen ($15.3 billion) set aside from the reserve fund in the current fiscal year budget.

The reserve fund was initially meant to only cover unexpected shortages in spending programs.

But the Kishida administration has taken the reserve fund measure to new heights.

Like past budgets, the budget for fiscal 2023, which starts in April, includes a reserve fund of 500 billion yen.

But an additional 5.5 trillion yen is listed as a special reserve fund, with 4 trillion yen set aside to battle COVID-19 and higher consumer prices, and 1 trillion yen to deal with the crisis in Ukraine.

Among the measures to deal with inflation are cash payments to low-income households and subsidies to reduce the cost of propane gas used in rural communities for heating and cooking purposes.

A separate program will pay out 50,000 yen to each child in low-income households.

Previous administrations have turned to the reserve fund to pay for various measures, including countering the novel coronavirus pandemic, leading to a ballooning of the figure.

In the past, supplementary budgets were submitted and passed to pay for emergency programs.

Such measures follow the constitutional provision that the Diet first approve all budgets for government spending.

Opposition parties have blasted the use of the reserve fund as undermining fiscal democracy.

“The reserve fund is like a blank check that the Cabinet can use by simply signing off on it,” said Hideaki Tanaka, a professor of fiscal policy at Meiji University. “Including a reserve fund in the budget of several trillions of yen goes against the spirit of the constitutional definition of the reserve fund and should be immediately revised.”

But ruling party lawmakers have called for various spending programs in light of the unified local elections to be held in a couple of weeks.

(This article was written by Keiichi Kitagawa and Kuniaki Nishio.)