Friday 27 March 2020

$48 billion Resilience Budget 2020 to combat impact of COVID-19

Singapore Government pumps in $48 billion more to fight COVID-19 fallout, on top of $6.4 billion already announced at Budget 2020

Singapore is allocating nearly $55 billion, or about 11 per cent of its gross domestic product, to deal with challenges that have come in the wake of COVID-19

10,000 jobs to be created over a year, $800 a month to be given to those who lose job amid COVID-19 outbreak

Self-employed persons to get S$1,000 a month for nine months

Firms to get wage subsidies of up to 75% for local workers

Up to $900 cash help for Singaporeans amid coronavirus outbreak

Government freezes all fees and charges for a year till March 2021; student loan repayment and interest charges suspended for one year from June 1, 2020 to to May 31, 2021

3-month deferral of income tax payments for businesses, self-employed as part of COVID-19 support

Rental and property tax waivers and other help for businesses hit by COVID-19 pandemic

PM Lee and ministers to take three-month pay cut in solidarity with Singaporeans coping with coronavirus

$17 billion to be drawn from reserves for stimulus measures


Another $48.4 billion to weather 'mighty storm' caused by virus
President gives support to draw up to $17 billion from past reserves
Economic growth forecast for 2020 reduced to -4% to -1%
Support package comes as 52 new coronavirus cases are reported on 26 March 2020
By Royston Sim, Deputy News Editor (Politics), The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Singapore will roll out a landmark $48.4 billion package to support businesses, workers and families as the country grapples with an unprecedented crisis fuelled by the coronavirus pandemic.

This is in addition to the $6.4 billion worth of measures it announced just over a month ago to cushion the fallout from COVID-19.

In all, Singapore has marshalled nearly $55 billion - 11 per cent of its gross domestic product - to respond to what Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat described as "the most serious crisis we have faced in a generation".

Unveiling the supplementary budget in Parliament yesterday, he said: "This is a landmark package and a necessary response to a unique situation." In economic terms alone, "this will likely be the worst economic contraction since (Singapore's) independence", he noted, as he sketched out the grim global economic outlook.

The Ministry of Trade and Industry yesterday slashed its 2020 growth forecast to a range of minus 4 per cent to minus 1 per cent, from an earlier estimate of minus 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent. Singapore last registered a full-year recession in 2001, when the economy contracted 1 per cent.

The pandemic, which has infected more than 410,000 people across more than 190 countries, is likely to take at least a year to be resolved and the economic repercussions would last even longer, Mr Heng said. "This extraordinary situation calls for extraordinary measures."

He said President Halimah Yacob has given her in-principle support to draw up to $17 billion from the past reserves to fund part of this "Resilience Budget". This is only the second time Singapore has drawn on its national reserves to fund special budget measures. It drew $4.9 billion in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

The $48.4 billion Resilience Budget amounts to nearly half of the Government's $106 billion Budget for this year. It is also more than double the $20.5 billion Resilience Package in the 2009 Budget.

It focuses on three areas, the first of which is to save jobs and protect livelihoods by taking "bolder and more aggressive moves".

In all, $15.1 billion will go to an enhanced Jobs Support Scheme to support 1.9 million local employees.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said the Government will co-fund 25 per cent of wages of every employed local worker under the scheme, up from 8 per cent.

The monthly wage cap will be raised from $3,600 to $4,600, while the payouts will cover nine months instead of the initial three.

Companies in sectors worst hit by COVID-19 - aviation and tourism - will get 75 per cent wage offsets for every employed local worker.

The $1.6 billion Care and Support Package will be boosted to $4.6 billion, with cash payouts for all adult Singaporeans tripled from a range of $100 to $300, to $300 to $900, depending on income.

Mr Heng also announced measures to help businesses overcome immediate challenges, from deferring income tax payments for companies and self-employed persons to enhancing property tax rebates and rental waivers.

Another $1.9 billion has been set aside to build resilience in Singapore's economy and society.

The $48.4 billion package will raise Singapore's overall Budget deficit for the 2020 financial year to a record $39.2 billion.

"Our prudence and discipline in saving and growing our reserves give us the wherewithal to respond decisively when our nation faces extraordinary circumstances," he said, calling the COVID-19 outbreak a "black swan event that comes only once every few decades".

The Government will keep monitoring the situation closely, and he is prepared to propose a further draw on reserves if necessary.

COVID-19 is a defining challenge - one that will test Singapore's social cohesion and psychological resilience, he said. The country yesterday reported 52 new coronavirus cases, taking the total to 683.

While people are understandably fearful, they must not surrender to fear or panic, Mr Heng said.

"The Government will take all the social and economic measures we need to keep our people safe, keep our economy growing and prepare ourselves for the recovery. Now, more than ever, we need Singaporeans to be strong and ride through these challenges together."

The Government will stand with Singaporeans from all walks of life to battle the crisis. "I am confident that together, we will ride through this storm and emerge even stronger," said Mr Heng, who received a standing ovation in Parliament.

Parliament will debate the measures when it next sits on April 6.

PM Lee, ministers to take 3-month pay cut
By Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

The Prime Minister, Cabinet ministers and other political office-holders - as well as the President - will take a three-month pay cut to show solidarity with Singaporeans in this difficult time, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said that political office-holders will take an additional two-month pay cut on top of the one-month pay cut announced at the end of last month's Budget debate, in the light of the deteriorating situation caused by the coronavirus.

"The President, Speaker and both Deputy Speakers have informed me that they will join in and take a similar three-month pay cut in total," said Mr Heng, as he delivered the supplementary budget.

"It is in times of crisis that the true character of a nation can be seen," he added. "We are all in this together, and we must all look after one another in these trying times."

Mr Heng noted that the whole of Singapore has come together in response to the coronavirus, alongside healthcare and front-line workers. These include the private sector and individuals, who are providing encouragement and, crucially, complying with health advisories and practising safe distancing.

Many have also had to make difficult adjustments to their lives such as undergoing quarantine, cancelling celebrations and putting off long-awaited plans like weddings, said Mr Heng.

The Government will stand with Singaporeans during this trying time, he added. "The Government and the political leadership are in this with Singaporeans," he said.

"We share the worries and anxieties of Singaporeans, and we will do our best for you. We will walk with every Singaporean, through every up and down."

Mr Heng said the months ahead will not be easy as the situation continues to evolve dynamically and unpredictably. He added: "We will protect and advance the well-being and livelihoods of Singaporeans. We will take care of our people. We will leave no one behind."

Help for workers, families and businesses
The $48.4 billion supplementary budget unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday supports Singaporeans during the pandemic. It comes on top of the $6.4 billion set aside for this last month. Tee Zhuo lays out the key measures.
By Tee Zhuo, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020



• The Jobs Support Scheme was introduced in Mr Heng's Feb 18 Budget speech to help companies retain local workers. The scheme will be enhanced and extended, bringing the total support to $15.1 billion for over 1.9 million local employees.

• Originally, the Government was going to pay 8 per cent of the first $3,600 of a worker's monthly wage. Now, it will pay 25 per cent of the first $4,600 of the worker's wage - $4,600 is the median wage here. This will be until the end of this year. Firms will get the payout in three tranches - May, July and October. There will be more help for sectors worse hit by the pandemic. Those in food services will get 50 per cent help in wages. The aviation and tourism sectors will have 75 per cent of wages supported.


• Eligible self-employed Singaporeans will get $1,000 in cash a month for nine months. This will cost $1.2 billion in total. Details will be released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) soon.

• To help the self-employed make full use of downtime to train and upskill, another $48 million will go into the Self-Employed Person Training Support Scheme so that it is extended to December this year, from May 1. Hourly training allowances will be raised to $10 from $7.50. This is on top of existing training subsidies that cover up to 90 per cent of fees. Trainees can also use their SkillsFuture credits.

• The Government will also see how it can better support the self-employed to strengthen their financial security.


• The Workfare scheme to help lower-income workers will be enhanced. Previously, they got a one-off payment amounting to 20 per cent of their 2019 payout, with a $100 minimum. This will be increased to $3,000, in cash.

• Each union member can get a one-off payment of up to $300 under the $25 million NTUC Care Fund (COVID-19).


• About 10,000 new jobs will be created over the next year under an initiative called SGUnited Jobs. This includes jobs for emerging areas in the public sector, long-term roles in essential services, and also short-term jobs to handle the COVID-19 crisis. There will also be private sector openings. A virtual "fair" under the initiative will be launched by Workforce Singapore today with over 2,200 vacancies, focusing on immediately available short-term, temporary jobs.

• SGUnited Traineeships, a new programme, will support up to 8,000 opportunities for local first-time job seekers to get work experience. Workforce Singapore will co-share the manpower costs with firms, and MOM will announce more details soon.


• Low-and middle-income workers who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 will get cash grants of $800 a month for three months. This will tide them over while they find new work or seek training. The grant will be administered by Social Service Offices from May to September.



• The Care and Support Package first announced in Mr Heng's Feb 18 Budget will be significantly enhanced. Cash payouts for all Singaporeans will be tripled. Those who were supposed to get $300 will now get $900; those who were getting $200 will now get $600; and those who were getting $100 will get $300. The higher payouts go to those who earn less.

• Parents with at least one Singaporean child aged 20 and below this year will each get an additional $300 in cash. Earlier, it was announced they would get $100 more.

• Lower-income workers and self-employed people aged 35 and above last year who received Workfare payouts last year will get $3,000 this year. Previously, they were to receive a one-off sum amounting to 20 per cent of their payouts last year, with a $100 minimum.

• As announced earlier, all Singaporeans aged 50 and above this year will get a $100 PAssion Card top-up. Yesterday, Mr Heng said the top-up will now be done in cash instead to avoid the need to queue at top-up stations.

• Eligible Singaporeans aged 21 and above will get $300 in grocery vouchers for this year, up from $100 announced earlier. They will get another $100 next year.

• With these measures, a young family will now get about $2,900 instead of $1,300 under the Care and Support Package. A three-generation family will get about $6,700 instead of $1,800.


• There will be a freeze on fees and charges for all Government services for a year, from April 1.

• Loan repayment and interest charges suspended for graduates with government loans for university or polytechnic studies, for a year from June 1.

• Late payment charges on Housing Board mortgage arrears suspended for three months.


• Grants to self-help groups will be doubled to $20m over this year and next year.

• Community Development Councils will get $75 million, up from $20 million in additional funds.


• A sum of $145 million will be set aside to help those who need it through social service offices and community centres, including more flexibility for ComCare applications.

• A temporary relief fund will be set up next month for families who need urgent help.



• Restaurants, shops, hotels, serviced apartments and tourist attractions will pay no property tax for 2020.

• Businesses in other non-residential properties, such as offices or industrial properties, will get a 30 per cent property tax rebate for this year.

• Income tax payments will be deferred for three months for firms and self-employed persons, with no application required.


• $20 billion of loan capital to help support firms and catalyse private sector loan capital.

• The maximum supported loan under the temporary bridging loan programme (TBLP), which addresses cash flow issues in the tourism sector, will be increased to $5 million, from $1 million, and will be expanded to all sectors.

• The quantum for trade loans under the Enterprise Financing Scheme (EFS) will double to $10 million. The Government will also raise the share of its risk to up to 80 per cent, from 70 per cent. A working capital loan for small and medium-sized enterprises under the EFS will have the maximum quantum raised from $600,000 to $1 million.

• Loan insurance premiums under the Loan Insurance Scheme will be further subsidised to 80 per cent, up from 50 per cent. Loan payments for this loan and the TBLP can be deferred on request, subject to assessment by participating financial institutions.


• Hawkers at centres run by the National Environment Agency will get three months of rental waiver, up from one month.

• Public agencies, including the Housing Board and National Arts Council, will waive rent for eligible tenants, such as social service agencies and charities, for two months, up from half a month.


• All government charges and fees will be frozen for a year from April 1.


• The Government will offset 75 per cent of the first $4,600 in monthly wages in the tourism and aviation sectors, and 50 per cent in the food services sector.


• The sector will get $350 million in help. This covers measures such as rebates on landing and parking fees, and rental relief for airlines and the cargo industry.



• $90 million will be set aside to ensure the sector rebounds from the crisis when the time is right.


• A further sum of $95 million will go to the point-to-point support package, which helps relieve the shortfall in earnings for taxi and private-hire car drivers.

• Eligible taxi hirers and private-hire car drivers will continue to get a special relief payment of $300 per vehicle a month till end-September.

• Private bus owners will get a one-year road tax rebate and a six-month waiver of parking charges at government-managed parking facilities. This will cost $23 million.


• A sum of $55 million will be set aside to support jobs and training in this industry, including for digitalisation and retaining jobs. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth will share more details later.

$1.9 billion to strengthen Singapore's economic and social resilience


• The Government will match $1 for every $2 raised by trade associations and chambers or business groups, double the $1 for every $4 previously. This comes under the SG Together Enhancing Enterprise Resilience programme, which supports industry-led efforts to help firms tide over bad times and build longer-term capabilities.

• Up to 80 per cent of the costs of investing in technology like automation will be covered for firms under the Productivity Solutions Grant, and 90 per cent under the Enterprise Development Grant, which helps firms upgrade, innovate or venture overseas. Both grants currently cover 70 per cent. The enhancement will last till the end of the year.


• From April 1, the arts and culture and land transport sectors will get the better training support announced earlier, including more subsidies for course fees.

• From May 1, all employers will also get the 90 per cent absentee payroll rate announced previously, which helps with cash-flow issues when employers send workers for training.

• From April 1, Singaporeans will be able to use their base $500 SkillsFuture credit top-up to take courses earlier, ahead of the full roll-out in October.


• The Government will co-fund the cost of professional cleaning required at places with confirmed COVID-19 cases. This is on top of existing offsets for audit and certification fees that those in the tourism, retail and food businesses need, as part of the SG Clean campaign.

Resilience Budget to protect jobs, help Singapore emerge stronger: DPM Heng
Enhanced measures will mitigate extent of downturn that is likely to be worst since independence, says Heng
By  Lim Yan Liang, Assistant Political Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

The COVID-19 outbreak is an "unprecedented crisis" that has escalated very quickly, prompting the Government to take extraordinary measures and draw up a landmark supplementary budget, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

Delivering a ministerial statement outlining the Government's thinking behind what he called the Resilience Budget, he said the coronavirus was a defining challenge for Singapore. "It is a public health crisis, an economic shock and a social test. It will challenge our resilience as individuals and as a society."

Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, noted that just five weeks after he delivered his Budget 2020 speech on Feb 18, the world has slipped into a pandemic, with an estimated 410,000 people infected across 190 countries.

While Singapore acted early and decisively and was able to keep the number of cases at a manageable level in the first wave of infections, the world is now seeing successive waves and imported infections, causing countries to take public health measures, he said. But measures on the medical front to contain the pandemic have made the economic battle more difficult.

"As more countries implement their measures, the economic disruptions will be wider, deeper and more prolonged," said Mr Heng. "The global economy is now facing both a supply and demand shock."

He noted how lockdowns have had knock-on effects, given today's highly integrated global supply chains, while people staying home means spending has shrunk while business confidence is plunging in the face of growing uncertainties.

Global financial and stock markets are in turmoil too, while credit has tightened around the world.

As an open economy that is highly integrated with others, Singapore will be deeply impacted by these global shocks, Mr Heng said.

He noted that gross domestic product (GDP) estimates released yesterday showed the economy contracted by 10.6 per cent in the first quarter of this year. The Trade and Industry Ministry has also downgraded the GDP growth forecast for the year to between minus 4 per cent and minus 1 per cent.

"In economic terms alone, this will likely be the worst economic contraction since (Singapore's) independence," he said.

The new supplementary budget, which will introduce over $48 billion in new and enhanced measures, is therefore focused on three areas: protecting jobs, helping enterprises with immediate challenges, and strengthening economic and social resilience so Singapore can emerge intact and stronger.

"We cannot prevent an economic recession, as the external health and economic situation will evolve beyond our control," Mr Heng said. "But it will help us to mitigate the extent of the downturn and, more importantly, help save jobs and protect livelihoods."

The Budget is also a reminder that the virus is a test as well of Singapore's social cohesion and psychological resilience, Mr Heng said.

Concluding, he pledged that the Government will lead the way in the fight against COVID-19 by doing its best to anticipate and respond to developments, make decisions based on facts and evidence, and exercise judgment in trade-offs.

"We will stand with Singaporeans of all walks of life to battle this crisis together... (and) work with our people and institutions around the world to combat this global threat.

"This is the essence of who we are as a nation; this is the essence of who we are as a people. This is SG United," he said.

Resilience Budget: Singapore's overall budget deficit for financial year 2020 quadruples to $39.2 billion
$17 billion to be drawn from reserves for stimulus measures
Biggest draw on reserves and biggest Budget deficit
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Singapore will draw down more of its reserves than it has ever done, and incur an unprecedented Budget deficit this year, as the country fights the financial impact of the coronavirus that has battered the economy.

For the second time in the nation's history, the Government will dip into past accumulated savings. But the $17 billion it plans to use this time is more than three times the amount drawn down for the global financial crisis.

The measures announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday to save jobs, rescue entire industries and help Singaporeans tide over the storm will also bring this year's Budget deficit to a record $39.2 billion.

Setting out the considerations behind the unprecedented economic measures, Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, described the pandemic as the kind of "black swan" event that is precisely what the reserves were saved up for.

"We have saved up for a rainy day. The COVID-19 pandemic is already a mighty storm and it is still growing," he said. "Unlike the global financial crisis or the Asian financial crisis, where both the causes and solutions were economic and financial in nature, this crisis is far more complex, with additional medical, social and psychological dimensions."

As nations shut their borders, limit exports and halt economic activities to fight the spread of the virus and save lives, the economy has suffered a deep shock.

Already, the Ministry of Trade and Industry has forecast a sharp contraction, downgrading the growth estimate to a range of minus 4 per cent to minus 1 per cent, from an earlier estimate of minus 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent.

This is not an event that could have been anticipated and dealt with using revenues collected by each term of government, said Mr Heng, and so President Halimah Yacob's in-principle support was sought to unlock the reserves.

He added that she has given her in-principle support and he is prepared to propose dipping further into the savings should the situation worsen and warrant it.

The $17 billion will fund part of the $48 billion supplementary budget unveiled in yesterday's special Parliament sitting.

About $13.75 billion of it will be used to pay for measures to give greater job support, while the rest will help those who are self-employed, the aviation sector, as well as to provide financing to firms.

With all this spending, the deficit will come up to 7.9 per cent of gross domestic product, but Singapore can still remain fiscally sustainable because of the discipline and prudence in husbanding the reserves over many years, said Mr Heng.

Government leaders have reminded Singaporeans time and again of the importance of the strategic asset and Mr Heng reiterated that the reserves serve as a bulwark against crisis of an extraordinary nature, of which the current pandemic more than qualifies.

Having saved for a rainy day and created a two-key system to protect the money from misuse, the Government now has the wherewithal to respond decisively, he added.

"For a nation with no oil, no gas, no gold, no diamonds or natural resources of any kind, it is remarkable that we have built this up," he said.

He noted that the Government had resisted political pressure and ignored many calls in the past to dip into the piggy bank, and scrupulously upheld the principle to use it only in exceptional situations.

The only other time it has asked for permission to use the reserves was during the global financial crisis, when it was given approval to draw down $4.9 billion, but used only $4 billion to save jobs in 2009. The money was promptly returned to the reserves in 2011, after the economy turned around.

In 2008, a sum of $150 billion was pledged to guarantee bank deposits in Singapore up to 2010. It marked the first time the Government called on the President to exercise the head of state's custodial powers over the reserves, but the guarantee was never triggered, said Mr Heng.

"If over the years we had frittered the reserves away on more immediate but less existential needs, big and small, as some in this House have pressed the Government to do, we would be in a much weaker position today," he added. "I trust that every member of this House will deeply internalise the mission to be careful stewards of our reserves."

With the increased expenditure and the bleak global outlook, Singapore's fiscal position will be affected, he warned. And this time, the country cannot hope to rely on a repeat of the unexpected revenue upsides in the past few years, such as the exceptional contributions from increased stamp duty, he said.

"Instead, we must be prepared to bear the downsides when they happen. Because we have been prudent and did not decide to spend all of the surplus that we collected, we are ready to meet such downsides."

He said the situation remains highly fluid and uncertain, and urged those who receive help to use the resources wisely.

"We will use our resources to get through this together," he added.

President Halimah on why she gave her support for draw on reserves
By Danson Cheong, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

President Halimah Yacob said yesterday it was after careful deliberations that she gave the nod to the Government's request to tap past reserves to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, describing it as a matter of survival for Singapore.

In a message read out in Parliament by Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin, she said she has given "in-principle support" for the Government to draw up to $17 billion for the supplementary budget, which the House will debate next month.

This was done after "careful deliberations, considering the grave circumstances and highly uncertain outlook", she added in a speech stating her views on the Government's proposal.

"We need to do our utmost to help our businesses and people quickly. It is a matter of survival."

The sum will help fund a second tranche of support measures announced by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat to deal with what the President described as an unparalleled and unprecedented crisis.

It follows an initial support package announced in Budget 2020 last month, and seeks to help workers and businesses tide over this period.

The President said the Government had assessed that the additional measures were needed to swiftly stabilise the economy, keep as many workers as possible in their jobs and help businesses survive.

But this $48 billion package would require it to dip into past reserves, built up over years of prudent spending and meant for rainy days. "The situation we are heading into looks more like a thunderstorm and not just a drizzle," she said.

She added that the closest historical precedent to the current crisis was the 1918 Spanish flu, which infected 500 million people, about a third of the world's population then.

"But with globalisation and more interconnected economies and people, we can expect the economic impact to be far worse this time," she added. "This downturn is likely to be deeper and last longer than Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) and the 2009 global financial crisis."

Singapore's past reserves are safeguarded by a so-called "two-key system", with the Government and President each holding a key. Any draw on these funds by the Government would thus require the President's consent.

President Halimah said the Government first discussed with her the option of drawing on past reserves if the COVID-19 crisis worsens, when she was briefed on this year's Budget.

During the Budget 2020 speech on Feb 18, Mr Heng said the first tranche of support measures would not draw on the reserves.

But the President hinted at this possibility on March 4, saying it was something she would consider seriously if the situation called for it.

Since then, the situation has deteriorated, with workers and companies suffering, she said, pointing out that the hotel occupancy rate was at 20 per cent, and airlines like Singapore Airlines have grounded virtually their entire fleets.

The World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11, and around the middle of this month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had discussed with her the possibility of a second aid package.

Both the President and her Council of Presidential Advisers (CPA) were then briefed by various agencies on the details of the package.

"Let me also mention that I am satisfied with the process by which the Government has proactively reached out to me and the CPA in proposing this draw on past reserves," she said, adding that government agencies had comprehensively answered her queries and those of the CPA.

The President and the CPA - which unanimously recommended she gives her support for the draw on reserves - had agreed the priority should be to help workers keep their jobs, and companies manage their costs and cash flow, especially those in badly hit industries.

Such a draw on the reserves to fund special Budget measures has happened only once before - during the 2009 global financial crisis, when then President S R Nathan approved a draw of $4.9 billion to fund support measures.

After Parliament debates and gives the nod to the second support package, the President will scrutinise it again and give her assent. She urged MPs to debate robustly the merits of measures being proposed.

In her message, President Halimah also said she was glad Singaporeans have banded together in the fight against the virus, urging them to unite and not be fearful.

"Let us work together as one people and support one another on this journey. Let us overcome the crisis and emerge stronger and more cohesive as a nation," she added.

Firms to get wage subsidies of up to 75% for local workers
The help will also last for nine months, instead of three
By Joanna Seow, Manpower Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Firms will receive wage subsidies of between 25 per cent and 75 per cent for all local workers as the Government makes "bolder and more aggressive moves" to save jobs and keep locals employed amid the coronavirus outbreak.

This is up from the 8 per cent wage subsidy in the Jobs Support Scheme announced in the Budget statement last month. The help will also last for nine months, instead of three, up to the end of this year.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday that a total of $15.1 billion will now be allocated to the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme, up from the original $1.3 billion package.

This is more than twice the level of support provided during the global financial crisis in 2009, he told Parliament.

"We cannot prevent an economic recession, as the external health and economic situation will evolve beyond our control. But it will help us mitigate the extent of the downturn and, more importantly, help save jobs, and protect livelihoods," said DPM Heng in announcing the supplementary budget.

"With this support from the Government, I urge employers to do your part to hold on to your workers."

The Ministry of Trade and Industry earlier yesterday cut its 2020 growth forecast to between minus 4 per cent and minus 1 per cent, from an earlier estimate of minus 0.5 per cent to 1.5 per cent. The last time Singapore posted a full-year recession was in 2001 during the crash.

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, announced a slew of measures to support the immediate priority of saving jobs, supporting workers and protecting livelihoods - measures that account for over one-third of the $48 billion supplementary budget.

While his Budget statement last month introduced the Jobs Support Scheme and enhanced the Wage Credit Scheme, "the situation now calls for bolder and more aggressive moves to save jobs and keep workers in employment", he said.

The basic cash grant of 25 per cent of wages under the Jobs Support Scheme applies to all Singaporean and permanent resident employees, who number more than 1.9 million.

Firms in the food service sector, including hawker stalls, will receive higher support, at 50 per cent of wages.

Firms in the aviation and tourism sectors - which are the worst hit by the COVID-19 outbreak - will receive 75 per cent of wages. These include airlines, hotels and operators of meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions venues.

The support will apply to the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages per local employee, which is the median wage in Singapore. Gross monthly wages include employee contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF).

Business owners will not receive subsidies for their own wages.

The qualifying salary was raised from the original $3,600 level to provide greater support for middle-income workers.

Employers will receive payouts in three tranches, at the end of May, July and October.

They do not need to apply for the scheme, as it will be computed based on their CPF contribution data. Those eligible for higher tiers of support will be informed closer to the date of the first payout.

Mr Oo Gin Lee, managing director of public relations firm Gloo, said the higher wage subsidy over nine months will make a big difference by reducing his wage costs.

His revenue has already fallen with clients cutting back on publicity expenses. Mr Oo said that before the subsidy, he had considered reducing headcount or asking his four employees to work for half the time on half their salaries.

Retaining everyone on full pay allows him to be ready for when business returns, he said.

"Also, if I can keep everyone's job it's better for morale. They know the boss is going through tough times but is willing to fight with them."

Self-employed persons to get $9,000 in cash in income relief under Supplementary Budget to cope with COVID-19 outbreak
Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme will disburse $1,000 a month for nine months
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Self-employed people will each receive $9,000 in cash to help tide them through the coronavirus pandemic, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in his supplementary budget speech in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Heng said he would set aside $1.2 billion for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme, which will disburse $1,000 a month for nine months to these people.

"Over the last few weeks, I received feedback from the labour movement and many self-employed persons calling for stronger support for the self-employed, who have less income security and whose livelihoods may be worse affected during this period of economic uncertainty," he said.

"This group has been harder to reach as they work in diverse industries, many occupations, with varying working arrangements.

"They include taxi and private-hire car drivers, real estate agents, media and art freelancers, and sports coaches."

Mr Heng added that the self-employed will also receive sustained support for training and improving their skills.

An additional $48 million will be set aside for the Self-Employed Person Training Support Scheme, introduced earlier this month.

Initially, Singaporean and permanent resident freelancers were to get a training allowance of $7.50 an hour when they go for eligible courses in the next three months.

Mr Heng said he would raise it to $10 an hour from May 1, and extend the scheme to December this year.

The higher allowance is on top of existing training subsidies which cover up to 90 per cent of fees, he added. Trainees will also be able to tap their SkillsFuture credit.

More details on the schemes will be given by the Manpower Ministry.

"Looking ahead, we will see how we can better support self-employed persons in strengthening their financial security," said Mr Heng. "We will study this carefully."

10,000 jobs to be created over a year, $800 a month to be given to those who lose job amid COVID-19 outbreak
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Some 10,000 jobs will be created over a year to provide employment for locals amid the downturn, while those who lose their jobs due to the COVID-19 outbreak can receive a monthly cash grant of $800 a month for three months.

The unemployment assistance will be for low-and middle-income workers.

A new programme to help fresh graduates entering the job market will also support up to 8,000 traineeships across both large and small enterprises, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

"First-time job seekers may be concerned about the current job market. These include our students who have just graduated or are graduating from the ITE (Institute of Technical Education), polytechnics and universities this year."

Firms that offer traineeships targeted at local first-time job seekers this year can receive funding from government agency Workforce Singapore (WSG) under this SGUnited Traineeships programme.

These will include science and technology stints in research and development labs, deep-tech start-ups, accelerators and incubators, said DPM Heng.

Participants will receive an allowance co-funded by the Government and firm they are attached to, said the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) and WSG in a statement after the speech.

Infrastructure consultancy Surbana Jurong said it will take in at least 60 polytechnic and university graduates under the scheme.

Meanwhile, the SGUnited Jobs initiative to create about 10,000 jobs will start with the public sector recruiting for long-term roles in essential services such as social services, early childhood education and infocomm technology.

Temporary jobs to handle the increase in COVID-19-related operations will also be available in roles such as health declaration assistants and temporary management support officers.

Private sector job opportunities will also be identified together with the Singapore Business Federation and other trade associations and chambers. Companies such as technology firm Micron and transport operator SMRT are already on board, said Mr Heng.

An SGUnited Jobs virtual career fair will run at from today till April 12 with more than 2,200 vacancies mainly in temporary jobs that are immediately available.

Employers who reduce working hours of their staff should support those who wish to seek secondary work to supplement their income, said MOM and WSG.

As the impact of COVID-19 deepens, some workers will lose their jobs or see their incomes significantly reduced, noted DPM Heng, announcing several measures to tide them over. A total of $145 million will be set aside for these.

Low-and middle-income employees who lose their jobs due to COVID-19 can receive $800 a month for three months while they search for work or attend training.

This applies to Singaporeans and permanent residents aged 16 and above with a monthly household income of up to $10,000 or per capita household income of up to $3,100 a month before becoming unemployed.

It does not cover those who were on internships or who are self-employed.

They must also live in a property with an annual value of up to $21,000, and not currently receive ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance or ComCare Interim Assistance.

Applications will be open from May to September via social service offices, while those who need financial assistance next month can contact social service offices or community centres to apply for assistance from a new Temporary Relief Fund.

In addition, the Government will exercise more flexibility when considering applications for ComCare during this period.

A total of 63,900 residents were unemployed as of December last year, according to Ministry of Manpower data.

Singaporeans on Workfare to get $3,000 in cash
The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Lower-wage workers, including self-employed ones, will get a $3,000 cash payout under the Workfare Income Supplement scheme, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

This is an enhancement of the one-off special cash payment amounting to 20 per cent of their payout last year, with a minimum payout of $100, which he announced during his Budget speech last month.

Workfare is targeted at Singaporean workers whose earnings are in the bottom 20 per cent with some support for those slightly above, through Central Provident Fund top-ups and cash payouts. To qualify for the scheme, citizens must be 35 and older and earn a gross monthly income of not more than $2,300, among other criteria.

Cash payouts announced in Budget 2020 will be tripled, with every adult Singaporean getting $300, $600 or $900 depending on his or her income
Bigger cash payouts for households to cope with expenses; more support for low-wage workers, parents
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Cash payouts announced in Budget 2020 will be tripled, with every adult Singaporean getting $300, $600 or $900 depending on his or her income, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday.

The extra money for parents with at least one Singaporean child aged 20 and younger this year will also go up from $100 to $300.

"Many Singaporeans are concerned about how they will pay their bills and household expenses if their livelihoods are affected during this uncertain period," Mr Heng told Parliament. "We will put more cash in the hands of all families to help them cope."

These changes are part of the expanded Care and Support Package in the supplementary budget, delivered yesterday by Mr Heng. The package originally cost $1.6 billion, but will now cost $4.6 billion.

Apart from cash for households, the enhanced package includes more grocery vouchers for the needy and topped-up grants for self-help groups.

Low-income Singaporeans, who were slated to get $100 a year in grocery vouchers for this year and the next, will now have this year's allowance bumped up to $300.

This means that they will get a total of $400 in grocery vouchers between now and next year.

And given the need for social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak, the $100 PAssion Card top-up for seniors, announced in the Budget last month, will be given in cash instead.

"This is to avoid the need to queue at top-up stations during this period," said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister. People will get the money directly in their designated bank accounts.

In addition, the Workfare special payment for low-wage workers will be increased to $3,000 in cash.

Workfare helps those whose earnings are in the bottom 20 per cent, with some support for those slightly above. This group was originally supposed to get an additional 20 per cent of the total annual Workfare Income Supplement payout they received last year, with the highest payout at $720.

With all the additional reliefs, a young family living in a three-room flat with a combined income of $4,500 a month will get around $2,900 from the enhanced Care and Support Package for their household expenses.

This is on top of what they would receive from other schemes, such as childcare subsidies, the Baby Bonus and MediShield Life subsidies.

Similarly, a three-generation family living in a five-room flat, with a combined income of $6,500, can expect to get $6,680 of extra support.

Mr Heng added that the Government will also double the $10 million grant to self-help groups over two years so that they can help more families.

On top of that, the five Community Development Councils, which run schemes to meet the needs of families in their areas, will also get $75 million, up from $20 million before.

The minister also noted that the labour movement has been helping workers and self-employed persons.

Last week, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) announced a one-time payment of up to $300 for low-to middle-income union members. The payment will be funded by a $25 million sum set aside by NTUC, unions and the Government.

It also announced a $4 million top-up to the Self-Employed Person Training Support Scheme on Wednesday, which will give union members up to an additional $1 per hour in training allowance.

This is on top of an increase in the hourly training allowance from $7.50 to $10, which was announced by the minister in his statement yesterday.

"We will protect jobs, support our workers and protect livelihoods," Mr Heng said. "We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and are prepared to take swift action to do more if needed."

Govt fees frozen; student loan repayments to be suspended
By Linette Lai, Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

The Government will freeze all government fees and charges for one year, starting from next month and ending March 31 next year.

It will also suspend all loan repayment and interest charges for graduates who have taken government loans for university and polytechnic studies, starting from June and ending May next year.

This is to help graduates who are worried about having to pay off student loans while finding jobs in this economic climate, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat.

He added that late payment charges on Housing Board (HDB) mortgage arrears will be suspended for three months to help those struggling with mortgage payments.

"HDB will continue to exercise flexibility when providing assistance during this period through existing measures such as deferring payment of loan instalments for six months," he said.

In a separate statement, the Education Ministry (MOE) said all increases for fees charged by ministries, organs of state and statutory boards will be put on hold for a year.

This will apply to fees for citizen children enrolled at MOE kindergartens, as well as government and government-aided schools.

It will also apply to tuition and miscellaneous fees for citizens enrolled in government-subsidised programmes at polytechnics and Institutes of Technical Education. However, the deferment of fee increases will not apply to permanent residents and international students.

The suspension of loan repayments and interest charges applies to the tuition fee loan, study loan and overseas student programme loan. It will apply to graduates who have already started on their loan repayments, as well as those with outstanding government loans who will be graduating during the suspension period.

"Individuals who wish to continue repaying their loans can do so by informing their respective institutions and agent banks to make the necessary arrangements," MOE said.

Enhanced financing schemes to help firms access credit
Bridging loan scheme open to all sectors, allows firms to take loan of up to $5 million
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

About $1.7 billion drawn from past reserves will be used to finance several enhanced schemes to provide businesses with access to credit amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The temporary bridging loan programme, which Budget 2020 had set aside for the hard-hit tourism sector, will be available for enterprises across all sectors from April 1.

Businesses can take a loan of up to $5 million under the programme, an increase from the previous $1 million cap. All eligible enterprises can apply for the programme till March 31 next year.

With the enhancements, even the hardest-hit businesses can continue to have access to credit, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament yesterday.

About $20 billion of loan capital has also been allocated in the $48 billion supplementary budget unveiled by Mr Heng to support companies with strong capabilities and catalyse private-sector loan capital.

The SME Working Capital Loan, which helps small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in all industries access financing for cash flow, has also been updated.

The maximum loan quantum has been raised to $1 million, up from the $600,000 cap announced in Budget 2020.

The Government will work with participating financial institutions to defer principal payments for one year on loans under these two schemes, if businesses ask for it.

The Enterprise Financing Scheme - Trade Loan, which supports enterprises in areas like the financing of short-term import and export needs, will be enhanced for one year from April 1.

The maximum loan quantum is doubled to $10 million and the Government's risk-share has been increased to 80 per cent, against 70 per cent before.

Interest rates for loans taken under the programmes are subject to assessments by participating financial institutions.

The Government is also increasing its subsidies to businesses for loan insurance premiums - under the Loan Insurance Scheme - to 80 per cent, up from 50 per cent, to help SMEs in all industries manage their trade financing costs.

The programme helps SMEs secure short-term trade loans. The increased support will be in place for a year from April 1.

Mr Heng highlighted that the Monetary Authority of Singapore is working with banks and insurers to see how they can help businesses and individuals facing cash flow problems with their loan obligations and insurance premium payments.

Details will be announced by the central bank and the industry at a later date, he said.

Income tax payments for companies, self-employed people delayed for 3 months
Tax payments deferred to help with cash flow
By Choo Yun Ting, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Businesses and self-employed people will be granted a three-month deferment on income tax payments to ease their immediate cash flow concerns.

All companies with corporate income tax payments due in April, May and June will have them deferred automatically for three months. Payments will be collected from July.

This move is in addition to the 25 per cent tax rebate, capped at $15,000, for Year of Assessment 2020 that was announced last month in Budget 2020.

Self-employed people will also get a three-month deferral on personal income tax payments.

All freelancers, who have to file their personal income tax returns for Year of Assessment 2020 by April 18, will be given an automatic deferral of payments due between May and July.

These income tax deferments, announced as part of the more than $48 billion supplementary budget, will help to ease cash flow and are on top of wage support schemes announced last month, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament yesterday.

He noted that cash flow is a key challenge faced by business owners amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

"For businesses, 'cash is king', and many have called for more timely assistance," he said. "We are doing our best to flow the payouts under the wage support schemes quickly."

By end-May, $5.6 billion will be given to employers under the Jobs Support Scheme and Wage Credit Scheme.

The Jobs Support Scheme was enhanced yesterday. It will now offset between 25 per cent and 75 per cent of the wages of every employee who is a Singaporean or permanent resident for nine months, up to a monthly cap of $4,600.

The Wage Credit Scheme, enhanced in last month's Budget, co-funds wage increases for Singaporean employees earning a gross monthly wage of up to $5,000 - an increase from the previous ceiling of $4,000.

The Government is funding 20 per cent and 15 per cent for 2019 and 2020 qualifying wage increases, respectively.

This means businesses will receive about $16.2 billion through these two schemes by October this year, Mr Heng said.

Singaporeans can make early use of $500 SkillsFuture Credit top-up, all employers can get training support
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

From May, all employers who send their workers for selected training programmes can receive additional support from SkillsFuture Singapore funding, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced yesterday.

They will receive enhanced absentee payroll support at 90 per cent of hourly basic salary, capped at $10 per hour, up from 80 per cent.

The measure will provide additional cash flow relief for employers in view of the worsening coronavirus situation.

Currently, such support has only been provided for sectors directly affected by the COVID-19 outbreak such as the aviation, tourism, food services and retail trade sectors, and lasts for a shorter period of three months.

The support for all sectors has also been extended to the end of the year, covering eligible courses that start before Jan 1 next year.

Those in the arts and culture and land transport sectors will be able to qualify for enhanced absentee payroll next month.

They will also be eligible for enhanced course fee support of up to 90 per cent of the fees, up from a baseline rate of 50 per cent, Mr Heng announced.

In last month's Budget, it was announced that a one-off SkillsFuture Credit top-up of $500 for Singaporeans aged 25 years and above would be made available from October.

Singaporeans will now be able to make early use of the top-up for selected courses from April 1, ahead of its full implementation date, said Mr Heng.

They can check which courses are eligible under the new "Advance Use of SkillsFuture Top-up" category on the MySkillsFuture portal.

Mr Heng also emphasised the need to build economic resilience on all levels, including in research and development, food supply, and at the industry level.

The matching rate under the SG Together Enhancing Enterprise Resilience (Steer) programme will now be doubled, with Enterprise Singapore matching $1 for every $2 raised through qualifying industry-led initiatives, he said.

The programme supports industry-led initiatives to help companies tide over economic uncertainties and build longer-term capabilities.

Mr Heng also urged businesses to make use of this downtime to digitalise, restructure and transform.

The SMEs Go Digital Programme, which supports businesses in building technological capabilities, will be enhanced to help SMEs implement safe distancing and business continuity measures, among other things.

The maximum support levels for the Productivity Solutions Grant (PSG) and the Enterprise Development Grant (EDG) will be raised to 80 per cent and 90 per cent, respectively, to spur transformation, he said.

The enhancements to these three schemes will last until December.

The PSG defrays the costs for adoption of pre-approved digital solutions, while the EDG encourages the adoption of technology and innovation to increase productivity.

Singapore is also building up its national stockpile of health supplies, including masks and hand sanitisers, said Mr Heng, and strengthening its food resilience for the long term.

"Some may be concerned about the impact on our food supplies, arising from supply chain disruptions. We need not worry," he said, noting that Singapore has in place a robust, multi-pronged strategy to ensure that it continues to have a stable supply of safe food.

Higher property tax rebates for non-residential properties
About 60,000 to get tax rebate of 100%, including some 400 hotels
By Grace Leong, Business Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Owners of qualifying commercial properties that have been badly affected by the coronavirus outbreak will not need to pay property tax for 2020.

Such properties include hotels, serviced apartments, tourist attractions, shops and restaurants, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat as he announced a $48 billion supplementary budget yesterday to combat the worsening pandemic.

The property tax rebate, after enhancement, would cost the Government about $1.8 billion in total, the Ministry of Finance told The Straits Times yesterday. About 60,000 properties would be eligible for the 100 per cent property tax rebate, of which about 400 are hotels.

According to the ministry, this is the first time the Government has given a 100 per cent property tax rebate for qualifying commercial properties.

The move, which is a big step up from the 15 per cent to 30 per cent property tax rebates announced in last month's Budget, aims to help landlords with cash flow issues.

A property tax rebate of 30 per cent for 2020 will also be given to other non-residential properties, such as offices and industrial properties. Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, urged landlords to fully pass on the rebate to tenants, such as reducing rents to ease tenants' cash flow and cost pressures.

"Many businesses have pointed out that it will be a lose-lose situation if landlords do not support their tenants. After all, if tenants fail, the properties will be empty," he said.

This comes after some tenants and associations said the earlier round of rebates had not been passed on by their landlords. The Restaurant Association of Singapore, for instance, said not all food and beverage operators have seen the rental rebates promised.

Retail and food and beverage spaces were given a 15 per cent rebate in the Budget statement last month. Hotels, serviced apartments and convention venues got a 30 per cent rebate.

The 100 per cent property tax rebate for retail malls is sufficient to offset half a month's rental rebate for tenants for up to three months, said Ms Tricia Song, head of research for Singapore at Colliers International.

But many retailers rely on landlords to pass on the rebates.

SPH Reit said it will fully pass on its property tax rebate "in a targeted manner" to tenants adversely impacted by the pandemic.

The Reit manager's board will also take a 10 per cent cut of its directors' fees "in a show of solidarity with the community". SPH Reit chief executive Susan Leng will take a 10 per cent pay cut and other senior staff, a 5 per cent cut. The cuts will take effect next month and will be reviewed at year's end.

Extending property tax rebates to office and industrial properties should offer landlords some reprieve.

Ms Tay Huey Ying, head of research and consultancy at JLL Singapore, noted: "They have been incurring costs to implement temperature screening and social distancing. They are also expected to be more flexible in lease negotiations and help tenants contain costs."

For office and industrial properties, the 30 per cent property tax rebate works out to 36 per cent of a month's rent, said Ms Christine Li from Cushman & Wakefield.

Ms Kwee Wei-Lin, president of the Singapore Hotel Association, described the supplementary budget as a "lifeline" for the industry.

The association represents 158 hotels that employ more than 40,000 workers. Ms Kwee said the property tax waiver makes a "huge difference to the bottom line", given that tourism demand is almost non-existent.

"Although there were staycations and local F&B patronage, this incremental revenue stream disappeared with the new social distancing measures," she added.

Property tax exemptions will reduce overhead costs for the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions industry, said the Singapore Association of Convention and Exhibition Organisers and Suppliers (Saceos).

Deferring income tax payments for three months will relieve immediate pressure on cash flow, while changes to the enterprise financing scheme, including increased credit limits and deferred payment schedules, also help, said Saceos president Aloysius Arlando.

Enhanced rental waivers for hawkers, market stallholders
By Melissa Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Stallholders at hawker centres and markets, as well as eligible commercial tenants, will get enhanced rental waivers, in a move to provide them with greater support amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Those eligible will receive three months of such waivers, with a minimum waiver of $200 per month, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said in Parliament yesterday.

The waivers are for stallholders at hawker centres and markets managed by the National Environment Agency (NEA), Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, said when unveiling the supplementary budget.

Earlier, they were supposed to receive one month's rental waiver under Budget 2020 announced last month.

The commercial tenants in other government-owned or managed facilities will be given two months of rental waivers, up from half a month, Mr Heng added.

These facilities are owned or managed by such public agencies as the Housing Board and the National Arts Council.

Eligible tenants would include retailers, food and beverage outlets, providers of commercial accommodation and recreation, entertainment and healthcare services, as well as social service agencies and charities.

Government agencies, such as JTC Corporation, the Singapore Land Authority, HDB, Urban Redevelopment Authority, Building and Construction Authority, People's Association and National Parks Board, will provide a half-month rental waiver to eligible tenants of other non-residential premises. Eligible tenants include those who do not pay property tax.

In total, these rental waivers will cost $334 million.

Mr Jon Lee, head of marketing and business development at Chong Pang City Merchant and Hawker's Association, said the extended rental waivers will definitely help stallholders.

The association represents the stallholders at Chong Pang Market and Food Centre, a hawker centre in Yishun under NEA.

Mr Lee said business at the hawker centre dropped by about 20 per cent last month, and looks set to worsen to about 40 per cent this month.

He said: "A lot of families and office workers who used to patronise the hawker centre no longer come. So the additional rental waivers will be very helpful."

Relief from legal obligations over cancelled large gatherings
By Melissa Heng, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

People who may have to forfeit deposits because of cancelled large gatherings amid the coronavirus outbreak will receive support and relief from legal obligations.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, in unveiling a $48 billion supplementary budget yesterday, noted that providing relief from legal obligations that have arisen because of the COVID-19 situation is also an "important and complementary" part of help measures.

"It is no fault of theirs that they cannot perform these obligations. For example, people may have paid deposits for a big gathering that now cannot go ahead.

"It is not their fault that the gathering cannot go ahead," he said in Parliament.

"Should the deposits be simply forfeited? That won't be right."

Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, said that the Government is studying the issue, and that Law Minister K. Shanmugam will present a set of measures next week to deal with this matter.

Major events that were called off or postponed in Singapore in recent months due to the outbreak include golfing tournament HSBC Women's World Championship, IT Show 2020, the Income Eco Run, the annual DBS Marina Regatta and concerts such as those by K-pop group Got7 and Taiwanese singer Jam Hsiao.

More cancellations may be ahead amid stricter rules on large gatherings to reduce the risk of the virus spreading in Singapore.

The stricter rules include limiting gatherings outside of work and school to 10 people or fewer.

Events and mass gatherings including conferences, concerts and sporting events must be deferred or cancelled, regardless of size.

$750 million aid package to keep critical aviation sector going
Minimum air connectivity to be retained so that Singaporeans can return, supply lines stay open
By Toh Ting Wei, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Singapore will retain a minimum level of air connectivity even as airlines continue to ground flights amid the COVID-19 pandemic so that Singaporeans can return home and supply lines for essential goods stay open.

It is also critical to keep the aviation sector going so that the economy can pick up again when the time comes, said Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament yesterday, when he unveiled a $750 million aid package for the industry.

He said: "Our aviation sector has significant linkages to the rest of our economy. If it collapses in a crisis, it will be very hard for the aviation industries to rebuild after the crisis is over, and the recovery of the rest of the economy will be impeded.

"We must therefore ensure that this temporary shock to our air hub does not become a permanent one."

The aviation and tourism sectors are the most badly hit in the current crisis.

As part of the supplementary budget, companies in the aviation sector can tap an enhanced wage subsidy programme up to the end of this year.

Under the programme, the Government will pay the companies 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of a local employee's monthly pay.

They, however, will receive the money in three tranches - in May, July and October.

This will cost the Government more than $400 million.

The sector will also get a $350 million enhanced aviation support package - more than three times the $112 million announced earlier - to help it through the "single biggest shock" the global aviation sector has ever experienced, Mr Heng said.

This will fund measures to reduce costs for airlines, ground handlers and cargo agents.

Airlines will get substantial cost savings on various fronts.

From next month to the end of October, they will get a 10 per cent landing charge rebate for all scheduled passenger flights landing in Singapore and 50 per cent rebate on rent paid for airlines' lounges and offices in Changi Airport's terminal buildings.

Also, the duration of the free parking of planes at Changi Airport will be extended. The previous Stabilisation and Support Package had set it to end in July. Now, it will go on till the end of October.

Ground handlers will get rebates on rental paid for their lounges and offices in Changi Airport's terminal buildings. Meanwhile, the cargo sector will get additional rebates on landing charges and rent.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) will also allow Singapore carriers and the airport operator to partially or fully defer payment of certain fees to CAAS between April this year and March next year. The deferred fees come up to about $140 million.

Mr Heng said the profound impact of the COVID-19 outbreak on the economy will be felt for years to come.

"State support for the private sector where there are critical national interests at stake is not unprecedented," he added, citing previous examples in Europe and the United States. "We will support our aviation sector to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic."

Mr Heng also praised aviation companies such as SIA, Jetstar Asia and Sats for letting their interested workers help in public services that need more manpower now.

Budget carrier Jetstar Asia's chief executive Bara Pasupathi said more than one-third of its crew have taken up roles in the Singapore Food Agency, National Environment Agency and Raffles Medical Group.

The roles will let them support themselves while contributing to Singapore's efforts to contain the virus while flights are suspended by the company, he added.

Help for cab, private-hire drivers on several fronts
Measures to start from May are on top of $77 million point-to-point transport support package
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Taxi and private-hire car drivers will get more financial aid as the coronavirus pandemic takes a bigger toll on business.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat told Parliament yesterday that government help on several fronts will be rolled out - on top of a $77 million point-to-point transport support package announced last month.

"Our taxi and private-hire car drivers have seen their takings fall significantly, as more people work from home and as visitorship falls," DPM Heng said.

The following measures will kick in from May:

• The point-to-point support package will be enhanced and extended to September. This will cost the Government another $95 million. About $78 million will go towards main taxi hirers and qualifying private-hire car drivers, to be disbursed from May to September. This will benefit more than 40,000 drivers. Main hirers are encouraged to share this with their relief drivers.

• Drivers can also look forward to the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme. Administered by the National Trades Union Congress, it grants each eligible driver $1,000 a month for nine months.

• Taxi companies with unhired cabs will get relief amounting to $12 million. The industry's unhired vehicle rate has risen from 9 per cent in January to as high as 14 per cent, or close to 2,600 cabs, in the middle of this month, and "is expected to rise further". Again, operators are to share the savings with their drivers.

• To allow private-hire car drivers to exit the market, there will be a one-time waiver of the $100 fee for those who convert their cars back to normal passenger car status.

• The point-to-point licensing fee will be waived for another six months, from a three-month waiver announced last month. This will cost $3 million.

Eligible taxi and private-hire car drivers will continue to receive the Special Relief Fund payments of $300 a vehicle per month until end-September.

The Government, however, will not defer a new licensing regime which is supposed to level the playing field for taxi and private-hire car operators. The Street-Hail Service Operator Licence and Ride-Hail Service Operator Licence will kick in this September.

Besides direct financial relief, DPM Heng said an SGUnited Jobs virtual career fair will be launched today. This will offer more than 2,200 jobs, with a focus on temporary positions such as the "transport ambassadors" mentioned by Transport Minister Khaw Boon Wan earlier this week. These ambassadors will help prevent overcrowding in the MRT and perform cleaning duties in train cabins.

DPM Heng also announced an automatic deferment of income tax payments for companies and self-employed persons for three months, with no application required. For self-employed workers, the payment cycle for personal income tax for the Year of Assessment 2020 generally starts in May. This will be deferred to August.

A spokesman for ComfortDelGro, the largest cab operator here, said: "Our staff and our cabbies are deeply appreciative of the assistance that the Government has accorded companies in the land transport sector. We will be passing on savings to our drivers and will do our best to protect our workforce."

Cabby Henry Tay, 49, said the new package "is quite a lot". With the earlier relief package, Mr Tay said he is able to take home "$40 to $50 a day".

"It's tough, but I see this as temporary. Another six months, and I think things will get better."

Another driver, Mr Simon Tay, 65, said he finds the going untenable, even with the financial aid. "There are just no jobs (fares) out there," he said. "I would return my vehicle if I could, but I've signed a one-year contract with Grab, which ends in February 2021."

Business leaders, experts hail $48 billion surprise package
Labour chief says it is a strong signal that Government will stand by workers and businesses in challenging times
By Olivia Ho, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Business leaders, experts and labour MPs welcomed the coronavirus stimulus package unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament yesterday, expressing surprise at its unprecedented size of over $48 billion.

National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) secretary-general Ng Chee Meng said he agreed with Mr Heng that these were "extraordinary measures for an extraordinary situation" and that the size of the package, dubbed the Resilience Budget, was a "strong signal that we will stand by our workers and businesses in these challenging times".

Singapore International Chamber of Commerce chief executive Victor Mills called it the "big dose of medicine" sorely needed by the economy in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.

"It is a sign of a Government which is close to workers and businesses with the competence to respond appropriately," he said. "It is also another sign of the decades of prudent financial management which has enabled today's Government to respond to the extraordinary circumstances we find ourselves in."

Landlords, however, need to do their part too. Mr Mills said that private sector landlords should sign fair tenancy agreements with tenants. "This is long overdue and now is the time for them to step up and do the right thing."

Mr Kurt Wee, who chairs the Singapore Business Federation's small and medium-sized enterprises committee, urged landlords to not only pass on property tax rebates in full to their tenants during this critical time, but also to match the government rebates dollar for dollar.

"This will potentially have a larger impact on saving our retail and F&B front-line industries," he said. "Through this crisis, we hope landlords and tenants can work together to build a more sustainable and better future."

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Roland Ng said: "We are heartened that the Government has responded to our feedback and recommendations to help businesses tackle their immediate cash-flow challenges, business costs such as rentals and access to short-term financing."

Mr Douglas Foo, president of the Singapore Manufacturing Federation, said measures such as the Enhanced Property Tax Rebate, increased rental waivers and deferment of income tax payments to help with business cash flow would provide members with relief.

But he cautioned that this level of support cannot be taken for granted and may not be repeated.

"It is therefore essential that companies and businesses relook their business models, train and upskill their workers and look to digitalisation as the new norm for doing business when the effects of COVID-19 blow over."

Industry experts commended efforts to help employers keep workers on by allaying wage costs, such as the enhancements to the Jobs Support Scheme.

Mr Samir Bedi, Asean workforce advisory leader for professional services firm EY, said: "This Resilience Budget should help enterprises and workers to tide through this period of volatility and also be ready to spring back into shape once the situation stabilises."

He added that the extension of the 90 per cent absentee payroll rates to all employers, not just those in the aviation, tourism, food services and retail trade sectors, is "timely in supporting businesses to invest in and support employees' development". The scheme provides additional cash-flow relief to employers when they send their workers for training.

Labour MPs said they were glad to see more help for workers, particularly self-employed persons, who will receive direct cash assistance and topped-up training allowances.

Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) called the budget "mind-boggling", but stressed that it would be key to get financial relief as quickly as possible to hard-hit workers. "The self-employed and low-wage workers in affected industries are especially vulnerable as they may have a massive, sudden drop in income, without much savings to tide them over."

Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) said he was heartened to hear that Singaporeans would be able to make early use of the SkillsFuture credit top-up for their courses from April 1, ahead of the full implementation date in October. This, he said, could turn COVID-19 into "an opportunity to help our most vulnerable groups of workers emerge stronger than before".

The assistance in the budget extends beyond businesses and workers.

The Singapore Muslim Women's Association said in a statement that it appreciated the help given to women, families and children in the form of the enhanced Care and Support Package.

"As an agency that works closely with those in need, the enhanced cash disbursement to this group would greatly help ease their daily burden in weathering this period," it said, adding that it anticipated those seeking assistance from social service agencies will increase as the pandemic drags on.

National University of Singapore economics, finance and real estate professor Sumit Agarwal said that on a whole, the package will provide a much-needed boost of confidence to corporate leaders, employees and financial markets.

"I think other countries in the region can look at the bold stimulus package announced by Singapore and do something similar to rescue their own economies from going through a deep recession. But the situation is still fluid, so we cannot rule out further action by the Government in a few months."

No more denying the importance of having deep reserves
By Grace Ho, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

If there were doubts as to why the Singapore Government squirrels away past reserves and does not tap them during good times, they were laid to rest yesterday.

Amid the economic and social turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government pulled out all the stops in a second support package - just one month after announcing support measures to the tune of $6.4 billion in the Budget that had a record projected deficit of $10.95 billion.

The size of the overall support is a historic $55 billion or 11 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product (GDP), and President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle support for up to $17 billion to be drawn from past reserves.

This will be the second time the Government has drawn on past reserves and the largest amount to date, eclipsing the $4.9 billion which then President S R Nathan approved in 2009 during the global financial crisis.

The new measures will raise the overall Budget deficit for this financial year to $39.2 billion, or 7.9 per cent of GDP.

Explaining her reasons for approving the drawdown, Madam Halimah wrote in a statement delivered by Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin in Parliament yesterday that there have been successive waves of bad news since the Budget was presented last month.

Just when the COVID-19 situation in China seemed to be stabilising, a new wave of cases started in the rest of the world, she said.

"This downturn is likely to be deeper and last longer than Sars and the 2009 global financial crisis... We need to do our utmost to help our businesses and people quickly. It is a matter of survival.

"Our reserves were built up over the years through prudent spending, and were set aside precisely to cater for rainy days. The situation we are heading into looks more like a thunderstorm, and not just a drizzle."

Announcing the package - named the Resilience Budget - yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said the world is experiencing a confluence of multiple external shocks.

"So this is not a normal business cycle that we would have anticipated and dealt with using the revenues collected by each term of government. It is a 'black swan' event that comes only once every few decades," he said.

He said that despite political pressure, the Government has upheld the principle that past reserves are to be used only for exceptional circumstances.

And what an exceptional situation this is. With border closures and activities suspended worldwide, businesses are facing imminent collapse. As tourists stay away, airlines are running on fumes. Self-employed workers are a pay cheque away from hunger.

As CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun told The Straits Times: "We are far more integrated into the global economy now. So we benefit greatly when the world is on an upswing. On the flip side, we get hit big time. Tiny Singapore is the canary in the coal mine."

The Ministry of Trade and Industry has downgraded the Republic's growth forecast to a range of minus 4 per cent to minus 1 per cent this year.

Even the midpoint of this range would make this its worst recession since independence. The last time Singapore's economy had a full-year contraction was during the 2001 bust, when growth fell by 1 per cent.

The Resilience Budget is significant not only for its size and the amount of past reserves drawn upon, but also the range of measures they aim to support.

In 2009, the draw of $4.9 billion was used to fund two initiatives.

The first was the Jobs Credit Scheme - cash grants to employers based on the Central Provident Fund contributions made for their existing employees; the second, a special risk-sharing initiative made up of bridging loans and trade financing.

Fast forward to 2020, the funds are now spread over four measures - the enhanced Jobs Support Scheme, including additional tiers of support for the hardest-hit sectors; Self-Employed Person (SEP) Income Relief Scheme; the aviation support package; and enhanced financing schemes to ensure firms continue to have access to credit.

Employers will get more cash grants up to a higher monthly wage cap over nine months, instead of the previously announced three. Those who lost their jobs due to the outbreak can receive a monthly cash grant of $800 for three months.

SEPs will be granted a three-month deferment of their personal income tax payments due in May, June and July. Those eligible will get $1,000 a month for nine months.

All companies can now tap a temporary bridging loan programme, increased subsidies for loan insurance premiums and income tax payment deferments, among a slew of other initiatives.

Supplementary budgets are not new. During the severe acute respiratory syndrome outbreak in 2003, the Government provided fiscal stimulus through higher development expenditure and two supplementary budgets.

In the 1998 Asian financial crisis, a supplementary budget was announced in June, when the situation took a turn for the worse.

But never before has a second package been announced so soon after the first - just five weeks on - underscoring the severity of the pandemic's impact.

Also, it is not just the travel and food and beverage sectors that are distressed today, but entire swathes of the economy.

The issue is no longer just one of stimulating demand, but injecting broad-based liquidity into the system to keep businesses and families afloat and save jobs.

Hence, in addition to sector-specific support, yesterday's package emphasises direct income support, cash transfers, lump-sum payments and rebates that can be easily administered and reach large numbers of people quickly.

If the COVID-19 crisis deepens, the Government may need to step in again later this year.

It can do so only because it has a rainy day fund - one routinely prodded, debated and even derided over the years, but whose usefulness is now crystal clear as the world teeters on a medical, social and economic cliff edge.

As Mr Heng told members of the House yesterday: "If over the years we had frittered the reserves away, on more immediate but less existential needs, big and small, as some in this House have pressed the Government to do, we would be in a much weaker position today.

"But because we have prepared ourselves well, Singapore has the resources to meet this crisis with confidence.

"We will use our resources to get through this together."

Coronavirus: A budget beyond extraordinary
But success hinges on voluntary cooperation and solidarity among all the players involved
By Vikram Khanna, Associate Editor, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Various analysts and business leaders have been trying to guess the size of the supplementary budget, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said in a Facebook post yesterday morning. "It is important not to have excessive expectations or merely focus on the headline numbers," he added.

And then, he went on to make history.

In terms of size and scope, his $48 billion supplementary budget - which he called the Resilience Budget - far surpassed the expectations of economists who were expecting a $30 billion package at best.

The total amount earmarked to stabilise the economy is now $55 billion. It is the country's biggest Budget since Independence. As a percentage of GDP - 11 per cent - it is bigger than the historic US$2 trillion (S$2.9 trillion) package that Congress in the United States is on the verge of passing.

The Resilience Budget will lead to an overall Budget deficit of 7.9 per cent of GDP, another record.

But no matter. This is not a time to worry about deficits. This is a time to pull out all the stops.

Because when it comes to the potential economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Singapore is dealing with a black swan event - something bigger and more dangerous than the Asian financial crisis of 1998 or the global financial crisis of 2008.

It is, as Mr Heng pointed out, a public health crisis and an economic shock combined. This is not a regular business-cycle downturn, but is hitting Singapore from both the demand and supply side simultaneously. It is also a psychological shock.

A recession is certain. The only question is how bad it will be.

According to the new, sharply downgraded official forecast, the best-case scenario is that the Singapore economy will shrink by 1 per cent this year. In the worst case, it will shrink by 4 per cent.

The wide range of the forecast is well advised. The COVID-19 pandemic is still careening across the world. How it will evolve, how long it will last and how much economic damage it will leave in its wake are all uncertain.

But while Singapore can't dodge a recession, it can minimise the resulting pain.

This is what the Resilience Budget aims to do. The end goal is to ensure that companies survive, workers keep their jobs, those looking for work have some chance of finding it and families have enough to at least get by.

The supplementary budget addresses these issues, providing relief across the board. It offers support for families, companies, the self-employed, low-income groups, the unemployed, job seekers, students and trainees.

Its centrepiece is the hugely enhanced Jobs Support Scheme. In Budget 2020 presented five weeks ago, the Government pledged to subsidise 8 per cent of wages for the first $3,600 per worker. It will now co-fund at least 25 per cent for the first $4,600. For the food services sector, the subsidy will be 50 per cent, while for the aviation and tourism sectors - the worst hit by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic - it will be 75 per cent.

These subsidies, costing $15.1 billion, will be the key to keeping companies viable and enabling workers to retain their jobs.

But companies will need to cooperate. Mr Heng has urged them to keep workers employed, but there is no requirement for this.

There should be: Companies that take the subsidy and then go ahead and retrench anyway should have their subsidies cut or stopped.

Companies should also be required to refrain from taking advantage of the subsidies to do share buybacks - as some have done in recent months - or boost top executive compensation. Hopefully the Government, as well as the trade unions, will be vigilant against such abuses.

The variable levels of wage subsidies for different categories of industries make intuitive sense. The aviation and tourism sectors, which get the biggest subsidies, are worse hit than other sectors as of now. But this may change.

As the economic damage ripples through the economy, other sectors could also face more difficult times than they do today.

Besides, the aviation and tourism sectors also have suppliers that may belong to different industries - food caterers for the aviation industry, for example, or independent retailers at tourist attractions, and they would have their own suppliers in turn.

Picking winners and losers through the course of a recession is no easy task. The levels of subsidy should therefore be subject to change, depending on what happens in the economy and how different sectors are impacted.

The effectiveness of some other measures will also depend on how companies react. For example, landlords of office and industrial properties will be getting property tax rebates of 30 per cent, but there is no assurance that tenants will benefit. A requirement to benchmark rental payments to gross turnover for at least some tenants for a temporary period would help remedy this problem.

But landlords, too, have their liabilities - for example, in the form of mortgage and other loans. So banks would need to show some flexibility on loan servicing, either through reschedulings or temporary moratoriums on principal payments.

Banks would also need to be flexible on private residential mortgages in case property owners run into difficulties - following the example of the Government suspending late payment charges on HDB mortgage arrears - as well as on credit card payments.

And when it comes to loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, for which the Government - in other words, the taxpayer - has pledged to take up to 80 per cent of the repayment risk, banks must refrain from levying usurious interest rates, as they have in the past.

As huge and comprehensive as Mr Heng's Resilience Budget is, it might still need to be adjusted and augmented as the COVID-19 pandemic evolves. This will need to be carefully watched.

Meanwhile, its success will, to a large extent, hinge on the voluntary cooperation and solidarity among companies, workers, banks, the self-employed and the health services.

Getting over this crisis will need not only an all-of-government but also an all-of-society effort.

Singapore can come through it. And then we can look back and say, that was what resilience was about.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat pays tribute to all who have played key role
By Yuen Sin, The Straits Times, 27 Mar 2020

Singapore has been able to respond boldly and decisively to the coronavirus outbreak because of its cohesive and resilient society, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday, as he paid tribute to those who have played a key role in the battle.

These include the healthcare and front-line workers working tirelessly to care for the infected, the cleaners doing "humble but heroic work", and public officers working round the clock to respond to the threat of COVID-19.

Individuals and private sector organisations have also stepped forward, said Mr Heng. Keppel has put together a $4.2 million package to support communities most affected by the outbreak, while local aviation firms, such as Singapore Airlines, Jetstar Asia and Sats, have also been helping to facilitate alternative work arrangements in the public services for their workers.

Vloggers and bloggers are helping to share public messages, and others have done volunteer work, complied with health advisories and practised safe distancing.

"This includes foreigners who live amongst us and who care deeply about Singapore," said Mr Heng. "The whole nation has come together in response."

Many have also had to make sacrifices, acknowledged Mr Heng. Families have had to undergo quarantine, cancel celebrations or put off other long-awaited plans.

And despite the Government's best efforts to work with businesses and unions to save jobs, some workers have also suffered a loss of income or jobs.

"The Government and the political leadership are in this with Singaporeans. We share the worries and anxieties of Singaporeans, and we will do our best for them," he said. "We will walk with every Singaporean, through every up and down."

The months ahead will not be easy, as the situation continues to evolve dynamically and unpredictably, Mr Heng warned.

But he urged Singaporeans to stay vigilant and look after one another amid the trying times. "It is in times of crisis that the true character of a nation can be seen...We will stand with one another, through thick and thin. This is what it means to be SG United. This is what it means to be SG Together."


Supplementary Budget 2020 - Resilience Budget

Extraordinary measures for extraordinary times: Heng Swee Keat on COVID-19 stimulus package

Singapore Budget 2020: Advancing as One Singapore

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