By Carlos Vargas
BOGOTA (Reuters) - Colombia's Congress approved the 350.4 trillion peso ($93 billion) spending package proposed by the government for its 2022 budget in the early hours of Wednesday, the second consecutive year it has approved a record sum.
The budget is 5.3% bigger than the previous record of 332 trillion pesos - some $88 billion - approved for 2021, with funds earmarked to meet economic pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
"The goal is to improve the quality of life of people in a condition of poverty, extreme poverty and in conditions of economic vulnerability because of the effects of COVID-19," Finance Minister Jose Manuel Restrepo told lawmakers during the session.
The bill passed with 68 votes in favor and nine against in the Senate and by 117 in favor and 18 against in the lower house.
The budget is predicated on an economic growth target of 4.3% for 2022, compared with the government's forecast expansion of 6% for this year, and uses a fiscal deficit target for 2022 of 7% of gross domestic product.
Colombia's central bank forecasts economic growth of 8.6% for 2021.
The proposal allocates 209.1 trillion pesos for government operating costs, 2.6% more than this year, while proposed debt payments would rise 1.6% to 71.6 trillion pesos.
It also includes 69.6 trillion pesos for social spending, up from 18.8% in this year. This includes salary subsidies for businesses to boost employment, including for youth and women.
The bill will also temporarily suspend restrictions on public contracts being awarded during election years, in a bid to help economic recovery.
Colombians will elect a new president next year.
The budget will allocate 50.4 trillion pesos for pensions, 49.4 trillion pesos for education, 42.6 trillion pesos for defense and 41.8 trillion pesos for healthcare.
Lawmakers in September approved a $4 billion tax reform.
($1 = 3,766.94 Colombian pesos)
(Reporting by Carlos Vargas; Writing by Oliver Griffin and Julia Symmes Cobb, Editing by William Maclean)