'Many unaware' of their Budget benefits

Many people are still unaware of the benefits they are getting from this year's Budget and there is a need to think seriously about communication efforts, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on March 8, 2014. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ONG WEE
Many people are still unaware of the benefits they are getting from this year's Budget and there is a need to think seriously about communication efforts, Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam said on March 8, 2014. -- ST FILE PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Pioneers in particular in the dark, so direct communication may be necessary: Shanmugam

Many people are still unaware of the benefits they are getting from this year's Budget and there is a need to think seriously about communication efforts, said Foreign Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.

This is especially so for the $8billion Pioneer Generation Package, the centrepiece of the Budget.

Meant for first-generation Singaporeans, the health-care package includes Medisave top-ups and subsidies for outpatient treatment and will pay for part of their MediShield Life premiums.

Although some 450,000 people would benefit, said Mr Shanmugam, few know exactly how. He estimated that about 70 per cent of those who qualify do not know what the package is about.

This is why the Government needs to consider direct communications as a way of getting the message across, he said, after a session to explain the Budget in his Chong Pang ward.

"This touches so many people, and it's very important for everyone to understand what it really contains. I think we have to go back and think about how we are going to bring the message to everyone," he said.

Besides the direct beneficiaries of the package - Singaporeans who are 65 and older this year and who became citizens before 1987 - their children, too, need to understand its details, he added.

The reason: They will also benefit, as their parents' health-care needs will be taken care of by the package.

Those who are not pioneers have not been left out, noted Mr Shanmugam. For example, families with children may qualify for the kindergarten fee subsidies and if they live in Housing Board flats, they could also get goods and services tax (GST) vouchers and rebates on service and conservancy charges.

Some of those between the ages of 55 and 64 would have just missed out on the Pioneer Generation Package, he said, but they too will get Medisave top-ups and GST vouchers.

Commenting on Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Lim Swee Say's statement during last week's Budget debate that there could be more such packages in future for those who are not seniors today, Mr Shanmugam said it is, indeed, a possibility.

But that is only if the country is governed well and can make and save enough money to afford it, he added.

"This is not a promise, but there can be another package next time, why not?" he said.

All pioneers will get a letter informing them of their benefits and their first round of Medisave top-ups in early July.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Finance (MOF), which is leading the Government's efforts in communications, said: "We recognise the challenges in reaching out to all the pioneers who will be receiving the Pioneer Generation Package, but we will be making every effort to do so."

Among some of the things it has planned are to display collaterals at the clinics where pioneers can get treatment subsidies, and also to screen short TV programmes about the package.

It will launch a website later this year providing more details about the benefits.

Pioneers will be able to get someone to explain the package to them at the 26 Citizen Connect Centres at Community Clubs around the island.

MOF is also working with other government agencies and community partners to help get the word out, said the spokesman.

Ever since the package was announced during Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam's Budget speech, MPs have been holding dialogues to explain the components of the package to residents.

Some, like Tampines GRC MP Baey Yam Keng and Yu Hua MP Grace Fu, have also conducted sessions in dialect.

At the Chong Pang dialogue yesterday was Mr Aaron Ng, general manager of Nam Hong Welfare Service Society.

His centre, which runs a free traditional Chinese medicine clinic, rounded up 30 of its patients for an impromptu information session more than a week ago, and found that two-thirds of the seniors had not heard about the package.

"Many of them cannot read newspapers and they may not understand the TV programmes; we need to explain to them personally," he said.

yuenc@sph.com.sg

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