Coronavirus: Malaysian states begin handing out aid to those affected by outbreak

Commuters in Johor waiting for transport to to take them across the Causeway to Singapore on March 17, 2020, before Malaysia shut its borders.
Commuters in Johor waiting for transport to to take them across the Causeway to Singapore on March 17, 2020, before Malaysia shut its borders.PHOTO: REUTERS

KUALA LUMPUR - Several Malaysian states have launched stimulus packages and announced immediate financial aid in the form of rental waivers and deferment of student loan repayments to help people cope amid the coronavirus outbreak.

In addition, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said on Monday (March 23) that the government will disburse RM130 million ($42.6 million) equally among Malaysia's 13 states to help small traders, Covid-19 victims and front-line staff, including those in the healthcare sector.

He also said workers aged below 55 will be allowed to withdraw RM500 monthly from their Employees Provident Fund (EPF) accounts from April to help Malaysians who may have lost their income stream as a result of staying at home during the ongoing lockdown.

The Malaysian central bank on Tuesday (March 24) said banking customers, including individuals and small and medium sized enterprises, will be given a six-month moratorium from paying existing loans such as mortgages and hire-purchases. Bank Negara Malaysia in a letter to the heads of financial institutions said the automatic moratorium will be effective from April 1.

The closure of all non-essential commercial activities started on March 18 and will run until the end of the month.

As part of the Restricted Movement Order (RMO), employees forced to go on no-pay leave will receive a stipend of RM600 monthly for up to six months.

A deferment of government student loans has also been extended to six months from the original three.

Tan Sri Muhyiddin said a comprehensive stimulus package will be unveiled next Monday. It will be in addition to the RM20 billion package launched last month.

Meanwhile, several states have announced aid packages to help locals through the health and financial crisis.

Sarawak Chief Minister Abang Johari Abang Openg announced on Monday a RM1.15 billion economic assistance plan aimed at those "who at this time needed support the most".

The state is giving across-the-board discounts on electricity and water bills of between 5 and 25 per cent for the next six months.

It will cost the state government RM27.8 million a month.


A police officer in Kuala Lumpur on March 24, 2020, pointing at a drone which is used by Malaysian police to remind citizens to stay at home during the movement control order due to the Covid-19 outbreak. PHOTO: REUTERS

The state will also provide financial aid to Sarawakians in the lowest income group, who earn RM250 a month, until September.

Doctors, nurses and medical personnel will receive an extra RM300 a month for six months, while immigration officers, those in the police force and military will receive RM200, the state also announced.

Business owners will get a 50 per cent discount on council rent for six months, while traders and hawkers will be exempted from paying for permits and licences.

 
 
 

The state will also distribute two million face masks to people in Sarawak, which has a population of about 2.6 million.

Selangor last Friday launched a RM128 million stimulus package to ease the burden of tenants in low-cost residential units, small business owners, students, and front-line medical staff.

Menteri Besar Amirudin Shari said the initiatives, to be funded by the state treasury and contributions from subsidiaries of state-owned companies, include a deferment on land tax payments, benefits for front-line workers fighting the virus and incentives for traders and hawkers.

The stimulus package will also assist university students who are unable to return home due to the RMO, and allow a three-month rent deferment for those who are eligible.

The federal government had separately said that it would sponsor meals for university students who are now forced to remain in their hostels during the order.

"The Selangor state government views the Covid-19 outbreak seriously. It has been categorised as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO), forcing the Malaysian government to implement the drastic measure of a Restricted Movement Order with the aim of breaking the chain of infection," said Datuk Seri Amirudin.

In Penang, MP Steven Sim wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday that the state government is thrashing out details of a planned RM20 million stimulus package.

The state has already supplied additional masks, surgeons' scrubs, beds and pillows to Penang General Hospital and will hand out sanitisers and thermometers to residents in apartments.

The Penang Islamic Religious Council has also allocated RM2.5 million to help small traders and hawkers.

Deputy Chief Minister I Ahmad Zakiyuddin Abdul Rahman, who is also the president of the religious council, said those who are eligible will receive a one-off RM500 cash assistance.

The aid is for full-time traders selling food and drinks, clothes, kitchenware and basic necessities, and barbers making less than RM2,000 a month and with savings of less than RM5,000.

"We hope to reduce the burden of those who have lost their main source of income during this period of time."

 
 
 

In Pahang, the state government has prepared a RM15 million aid package, which includes a one-time cash assistance of RM150 and distribution of food items like rice, flour, and sugar to some 18,000 recipients directly affected by the RMO.

"There is no need to go to any government offices for the aid.

"Stay at home and the aid will be distributed directly to the homes of those involved," Menteri Besar Wan Rosdy Wan Ismail said on Monday.

Datuk Seri Wan Rosdy added that RM252,000 in total will be given to the 42 state assemblymen in Pahang to distribute to people affected by the spread of Covid-19.

The state will also halve rent under the low-cost housing and affordable housing schemes for April.

"As a show of support and sympathy by the state government and local authorities for hawkers and small traders, the government has agreed to grant a 50 per cent deduction in payments for stall rental and other facilities, including farmers' market, morning market, night market and car boot sale permits for the month of April."

The east coast state of Kelantan has allocated RM5 million to ease the financial burden of locals, its Menteri Besar Ahmad Yakob had said on Friday.

Salaries of  government contract or part-time workers will be paid as usual even though they are not allowed to be at work.

Neighbouring Terengganu is offering rental waivers for the months of April and May to those living in low-cost housing.

Business owners will also be exempted from paying rent for April.

Meanwhile, students who have education loans from the state will be allowed to delay repayments, said Menteri Besar Ahmad Samsuri Mokhtar on Monday.

Besides federal assistance and support from the states, some banks have also offered financial assistance to those affected.

The Association of Islamic Banking and Financial Institutions Malaysia (AIBIM) and 19 of its members, including Maybank Islamic, HSBC Amanah, and CIMB Islamic, are providing loan restructuring and rescheduling of repayments for customers affected as a result of the outbreak.

While the measures were welcomed, some were unhappy at the decision to allow EPF contributors to withdraw their savings.

The Malaysian Trades Union Congress (MTUC) said that the federal government should instead use its reserves to help Malaysians.

 
 

"The MTUC stand is simple in the current situation - do not touch the workers' EPF, cut their salaries or retrench them because the social repercussions are indeed serious.

"We urge the government to rethink this plan and scrap it," it said in a statement.

Madam Lydia Nasir, 37, who runs her own catering business in Kuala Lumpur, said: "EPF money shouldn't be used for this. Some people don't have a lot of savings in their EPF.

"Everybody is affected by the outbreak."