A MASSIVE 56,000 more people will be eligible for medical cards under plans to be announced in tomorrow's Budget.
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe is to relax the qualifying criteria for people over 70 on foot of negotiations with his government colleagues in the Independent Alliances.
Disabilities Minister Finian McGrath demanded the extra resources during what sources described as “robust” discussions in the last 24 hours.
Mr Donohoe is putting the final touches to Budget 2020 which primarily be presented as a ‘Brexit Budget’.
However, sources said there will also be a big emphasis placed on the green agenda and reducing the cost of living for families.
No changes to the medical card system were expected but Independent.ie understands that €30m will now be allocated to cater for larger numbers.
The qualifying threshold for a single person will be raised by €500, while a couple will be entitled to an income that is €1,050 larger than now. This will bring an extra 56,000 into the net.
The Independent Alliance is also demanding assurances around how money raised through a €6-per-tonne increase to the carbon tax will be allocated.
It is expected that Westmeath TD Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran will back the Budget once he is promised specific funding for the Midland’s region which has been heavily reliant on the bog for employment.
Transport Minister Shane Ross is seeking concession on the inheritance tax, which currently kicks when a property over €320,000 is transferred from a deceased parent to their children.
Overall the Budget is expected to be a mixed bag for households as Mr Donohoe tries to channel available resources to preparing for Brexit.
Pensioners will not get a €5 top-up in Budget 2020 as the focus shifts towards families struggling with the cost of living.
However, Independent.ie understands that many of his announcements will not come into effect until well after the general election.
Free GP care for under-eights and free dental treatment for under-sixes won’t kick in until September 2020.
Increased subsidies for childcare are not expected until “very late next year”, possibly November.
Mr Donohoe is also planning an increase to the €1,500 tax credit given to couples where one parent stays at home to care for a child.
As part of a €130m social welfare package, low-income families with teenagers who receive the Qualified Child Allowance will see an increase on the current rate of €37 a week.
Meanwhile, the Help-to-Buy scheme, which is worth up to €20,000 for first-time buyers, is to be extended for another year. It was due to end on December 31.
The Finance Minister has now finalised negotiations with the majority of departments, including Social Protection.
It’s understood Minister Regina Doherty is to get €150m in ‘new money’. This is down considerably from the €360m extra she received last year, and has made across-the-board social welfare hikes impossible.
Fianna Fáil’s Willie O’Dea has repeatedly insisted that a €5 increase to the old-age pension is affordable – but this has now been taken off the table.
For the first time in three budgets, a source confirmed: “It won’t feature this year.”
Instead, Ms Doherty is to use her allocation to target vulnerable older people and children.
The Living Alone Allowance of €9 a week for older people is to be increased.
And the Qualified Child Allowance, paid to low-income families, will be increased from €37.
The hike will apply to children aged over 12 years.
And a Christmas Bonus will see all social welfare recipients get a double payment in December.
There will also be an increase in the weekly Fuel Allowance in order to counterbalance the carbon tax.
It is likely to be topped up by €2 per week but this was “up in the air” last night as discussion on the green tax continued.
Health Minister Simon Harris is to get the biggest budget increase of any department, meaning health spending will hit a new record next year.
However, much of the money will be immediately gobbled up to pay for wage increases for the more than 100,000 public servants working in the system.
Millions in extra funding will be made available to provide homecare packages but it will fall short of the €45m that is required to eliminate waiting lists for the service.
Discussions are also ongoing about how much additional funding can be spared for the Fair Deal scheme. It needs a boost of around €75m if waiting times are to be maintained at four weeks.
Prescription charge fees for the over-70s are to be reduced by 50c, while the maximum a family pays for medicine in a single month will be capped at €114 next year.
In the area of childcare, Minister Katherine Zappone is to get a significant increase ahead of the launch of the National Childcare Scheme at the end of the month.
Increases to the subsidies available to parents using crèche facilities will be announced but the money won’t come on-stream until late next year.
The Home Carers’ Tax Credit for stay-at-home parents will be increased in line with the subsidies.
Housing Minister Eoghan Murphy will get a renewed budget for the Help-To-Buy scheme even though some in his department are understood to have wanted it abolished.
Since its introduction in 2016, the scheme has helped almost 15,000 first-time buyers at a cost of €215m. House-hunters can claim up to €20,000 on properties valued at up to €600,000.
Changes to the threshold were discussed as part of the budgetary process but sources said they are likely to remain unchanged.
Over the weekend, Mr Varadkar described the scheme as an “enormous success” but added “some modifications” were needed to ensure it wasn’t subsidising couples who can already well afford to buy.
Fianna Fáil’s housing spokesman Darragh O’Brien last night told the Irish Independent that “in the absence of the implementation of the affordable housing scheme for first-time buyers, this grant must be kept”.
One of the final decisions to be made today will be a price hike for cigarettes of up to 50c.
There will be no excise increase for alcohol due to concern about cross-Border smuggling after Brexit.