After a year of record deficits and unemployment, beggars can't be choosers, Hong Kong officials reminded residents ahead of the 2021-22 city budget delivery Wednesday
"We can only eat the food on the table, so there are limited choices," Finance Secretary Paul Chan wrote in his weekly blog. "However, we still hope that we can help and support our family and friends."
Accounting firm PwC predicts a budget deficit of HK$331 billion ($42.7 billion), casting a pall on public hopes for pandemic relief cash handouts.
Chan expects the deficit to carry into the next fiscal year as authorities implement countercyclical economic policy to add stability.
"The pandemic will pass, and the difficulties must be overcome. The changing environment will make us more resilient," Chan said.
In January, he warned of "challenges" to the city's finances that would be reflected in the upcoming budget.
Hong Kong's unemployment rate hit a near-17-year high of 7% in January. Workers in the food and beverage industry were hardest hit with joblessness nearing 15%.
"The labor market will remain under pressure in the near term as it will take time for economic activities to return to normal," Hong Kong's Secretary for Labor and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said last week.
Pandemic-related job losses have strained the finances of many households like never before, leading to demands for better relief measures across the city's usually fractured political community.
Armed with an 80,000-signature petition, lawmakers in the pro-establishment Federation of Trade Unions picketed government offices over the weekend requesting HK$15 billion in emergency unemployment aid for people who have been jobless more than six months.
Earlier this month, Democratic Party members called for a HK$15,000 cash handout for every Hong Kong resident feeling the economic impact of the virus.
While these groups are likely to be disappointed with the upcoming budget, soccer fans are in luck. The government is likely to spend HK$300 million on soccer pitch revitalization across the city, including fresh artificial turf in some of the larger fields.
New rounds of inflation-linked iBonds with a 2% minimum interest rate, as well as Silver Bonds for senior citizens, are also expected to be featured in the budget.