SINGAPORE: Financial assistance for the unemployed and low-income workers are set to increase as the COVID-19 outbreak unnerves businesses and employees across Singapore.
“The best way to safeguard the well-being of our people is by supporting them to stay employed,” said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat in Parliament on Thursday (Mar 26).
“As the impact of COVID-19 on our economy deepens, some workers will lose their jobs or see their incomes significantly reduced. We will help them.”
Between May and September this year, low- and middle-income workers who become unemployed can receive a grant of S$800 a month over three months as they look for a new job or undergo training under the COVID-19 Support Grant.
Those who are eligible must not have a per capita household income of S$3,100 a month or live in a property with an annual value of S$21,000 or more, among other criteria. Beneficiaries can apply at their nearest social service offices (SSOs).
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Residents who require help more urgently can tap on the Temporary Relief Fund, which they can access via the SSOs and community centres come April.
Eligibility for the ComCare scheme – a government welfare programme that provides assistance to those who fall into financial hardship – will be eased to ensure affected Singaporeans can get help.
A total of S$145 million will be set aside for this set of unemployment benefits.
HELP FOR HOUSEHOLDS
The Care and Support package, originally valued at S$1.6 billion, will now cost about S$4.6 billion.
Mr Heng said: “Many Singaporeans are concerned about how they will pay their bills and household expenses if their livelihoods are affected during this uncertain period.
“We will put more cash in the hands of all families to help them cope.”
Cash payouts for all adult Singaporeans will now be tripled to a range of S$300 to S$900, depending on their income.
The additional cash payout given to each Singaporean parent with at least one Singaporean child aged 20 and younger will also be tripled from S$100 to S$300.
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Singaporeans aged 50 and over who were set to get a S$100 top-up in their PAssion cards will receive the amount in their bank accounts instead, as to avoid the need to queue at top-up stations, said DPM Heng.
These cash payouts will be disbursed between August and September this year.
Grocery vouchers given to needy Singaporeans this year will also triple from S$100 to S$300. Together with the S$100 voucher given to them next year, they will receive S$400 in grocery vouchers over 2020 and 2021.
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Grants given to self-help groups and community development councils (CDCs), which have their own assistance schemes, will be increased. Self-help groups will receive S$20 million over two years.
CDCs will receive S$75 million this year, S$50 million more than the original sum announced.
FREEZE IN FEES AND LOANS
All government services fees and charges will be frozen for a year, from Apr 1 to Mar 31, 2021, Mr Heng said.
Graduates’ loan repayments and interest charges will be suspended for one year between Jun 1 and May 31 2021 as well, in order to help graduate who are worried about having to pay off their student loans while finding job in this economic climate, said DPM Heng.
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Late payment charges on HDB mortgage arrears will also be suspended for three months, to help those who are struggling with their mortgage payments, he said.
The Housing and Development Board will continue to exercise flexibility when providing assistance during this period through existing measures such as deferring payment of loan installments for six months, he added.
SUPPORT FOR LOW-INCOME, SELF-EMPLOYED WORKERS
Singaporeans who are on Workfare will receive more money under the new Workfare Special Payment scheme announced at the Budget this year.
They were originally going to receive a one-off stipend of 20 per cent of their 2019 payout, with a minimum S$100 payout.
They will now each receive S$3,000 in cash instead.
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Mr Heng pointed out that the country’s labour movement is also helping workers, including freelancers.
The National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) announced last week that it will set aside S$25 million to provide a one-off relief of up to S$300 to low and middle income union members.
The union also topped up the training support scheme offered to self-employed workers – now a rate of S$10 per hour – by S$4 million, giving union members an additional training allowance of up to S$1 per hour.
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“We will protect jobs, support our workers, and protect livelihoods,” said Mr Heng as he listed the various initiatives in his speech.
“We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and are prepared to take swift action to do more if needed.”