Saturday, 16 May 2020

$16 billion in COVID-19 support given out as of May 2020: Indranee Rajah

Help disbursed to Singaporeans, businesses between March and May under three Budgets
By Grace Ho, Senior Political Correspondent, The Straits Times, 14 May 2020

More than $16 billion in COVID-19 government assistance has been given out so far, as Singapore crosses the halfway mark of the circuit breaker period, said Second Minister for Finance Indranee Rajah.

In a Facebook post yesterday, she said the support was provided between March and this month to Singaporeans and businesses under the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets.

This includes $7 billion under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), where the Government co-funds the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages paid to each local employee. Another $4 billion will be paid out this month.

The Government had earlier announced a total of $63.7 billion in aid under the three COVID-19 support packages, which were rolled out between February and last month.

"Our first priority has been to protect people health-wise against COVID-19 and ensure that those infected, including foreign workers, receive the best possible care to help them recover," said Ms Indranee.

"With economic activities slowing, our other major priority has been to ensure that individuals, families and businesses are supported through this difficult period," she added.

She also thanked companies that returned or donated the financial support received to charity.

Thirty-two companies have returned $35 million worth of JSS payouts to the Government, while others are donating the funds.

The rest of the disbursements include more than $2.5 billion in property and corporate income tax rebates as well as foreign worker levy waivers and rebates; and $2 billion given to individuals and households, including the Solidarity Payment of $600 to all adult Singaporeans, GST Voucher - U-Save and service and conservancy charges rebates.

About $200 million was also given out to around 450,000 Singaporeans under the Temporary Relief Fund. This is a one-off cash payment of $500 for those needing immediate financial help due to the virus outbreak and countermeasures.

Ms Indranee said another $300 million will be paid out this month in the first tranche under the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme. This will benefit more than 100,000 self-employed persons.

While disbursing $16 billion in less than three months is unprecedented, it is necessary to help cushion COVID-19's impact, she added.

"This has been possible due to prudent management of public finances and the strength of our reserves, which have been judiciously and painstakingly built up over the years for a time such as this," she said.

The combined Budgets are expected to draw a historic $21 billion from Singapore's past reserves.

When the circuit breaker period ends on June 1, Singapore will be emerging into a changed world, she added.

"While some of what was done in the past will continue, the way we live and work will inevitably have to change. We will all have to adjust and adapt. The Government will provide the necessary support to enable the transition.

"Now, more than ever, is the time for Government and people to work in partnership as we take on the challenge of rebuilding the economy and strengthening our society. Together, we will emerge stronger."

More Singaporeans approved for government financial assistance schemes
By Tham Yuen-C, Senior Political Correspondent, The Sunday Times, 10 May 2020

The coronavirus has seen more Singaporeans and permanent residents on government financial aid in March and April this year, compared with the same period last year.

Applications approved for the ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance and ComCare Long-Term Assistance schemes have increased significantly, figures from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) show.

In March, there were 4,754 approved applications for the schemes, up 18 per cent from March last year.

In April, the number of approved applications rose to 5,020, a 33 per cent increase over April last year.

"COVID-19 has significantly impacted the economy and the lives of many Singapore citizens and permanent residents, causing many people to lose their jobs, experience a decrease in income or be placed on no-pay leave," an MSF spokesman told The Sunday Times. "Our ComCare assistance is one of the various government schemes to support these affected groups."

The MSF, which oversees the schemes, has exercised greater flexibility in the assessment of ComCare applications, the spokesman said. This includes giving approval for a longer duration of support - at least six months in general - from the get-go, an automatic six-month extension for households whose ComCare expires between now and July, and looking at each case on its merit instead of sticking strictly to only income criteria.

Mr Mohammad Ridzuan, 44, is among those getting ComCare. The delivery driver and his family had already been on the scheme when COVID-19 hit Singapore's shores, but they are now receiving more monthly assistance after he was let go on April 9. From bringing home about $1,400 a month, he suddenly had no monthly income.

"During that period, I had no more cash and all my bills were stuck - I couldn't pay," said the sole breadwinner who lives with his wife, 42, and four children aged 12 to 16.

The ComCare cash payout of $1,700 a month goes towards putting food on the table and buying diapers for one of his sons, who is autistic, he said, adding that the Social Service Office is looking at ways to provide more help to his family.

Meanwhile, the increase in people going on the government assistance schemes has also made it easier for people to apply, said another ComCare recipient, Mr Koh.

The 33-year-old, who declined to give his full name, was just making a career switch from selling chemicals to insurance when COVID-19 hit and the Government put in place the circuit breaker. This meant he was no longer able to canvass for clients, and his income fell from about $2,000 to $3,000 a month to zero.

"I was very stressed, it caused me sleepless nights. I literally fell asleep only in the morning because of fatigue," he said of why he decided to apply for ComCare. "I think more people are exposed to it, more people know what kind of help there is and there is also less of a stigma."

He and his wife, 31, have two daughters, aged seven and three. The family now gets $1,450 in cash a month from ComCare.

There has also been high demand for other grants and schemes. The COVID-19 Support Grant, for Singaporeans and PRs who have lost their jobs or seen a significant reduction in their pay, has seen 15,000 people apply since applications opened on May 4. The MSF is assessing the applications, which take two weeks to process.

Organisations and individuals have also raised some $17 million for two funds to help vulnerable Singaporeans facing difficulties resulting from the coronavirus crisis.

Since February, The Courage Fund, which provides relief to vulnerable individuals and families, has received more than $8 million from corporate donors. The Invictus Fund, which channels private donations to social service agencies and was set up in April, has raised over $2 million in just over a month.

Individual donors have given close to $7 million to both funds, with two philanthropists alone giving $2 million, said the Community Chest and National Council for Social Service (NCSS) in a statement yesterday.

In all, more than 70 companies have generously donated to the two funds, while 10 others have contributed essential supplies, including masks, hand sanitisers and thermal scanners to vulnerable segments of the population, said NCCS and ComChest.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said: "I would like to thank all our corporates for being a force for good in these challenging times. We are encouraged by this generosity, and welcome more to give back to the local and international community so that we can weather this global health crisis together."

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