Budget debate: New initiative to provide meals for vulnerable, help heartland businesses affected by Covid-19

The scheme will allow needy families to redeem free meals and drinks at some coffee shops, food courts, and heartland enterprises. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An islandwide initiative will be rolled out to provide meals for vulnerable families in the heartlands, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower Low Yen Ling on Thursday (Feb 27).

Details on this scheme - which will allow needy families to redeem free meals and drinks at some coffee shops, food courts, and heartland enterprises - are being worked out and will be released later, she added.

An estimated 100,000 families are expected to benefit from the initiative, which Ms Low (Chua Chu Kang GRC) said will also bring business to heartland joints and coffee shops affected by the coronavirus outbreak.

The five Community Development Councils (CDCs) will administer the scheme, which builds on existing initiatives for the needy and will tap a new $20 million fund for CDCs announced at the Budget.

Ms Low was responding to Mr Png Eng Huat (Hougang), who asked during Wednesday's debate if a grocery voucher scheme announced in the Budget should be extended beyond participating supermarkets to neighbourhood provision shops, to help such small businesses.

The $100 voucher, for adult citizens who live in one- or two-room HDB flats and do not own more than one property, can be used at supermarkets such as FairPrice, Giant and Sheng Siong.

Ms Low, who is also Mayor of the South West District, also noted that some constituencies have already been working with heartland retailers and businesses to meet the nutritional needs of low-income residents.

Echoing Nominated MP Lim Sun Sun's points about how having access to nutritional meals can have a positive impact on a child's development, Ms Low said having food security can also strengthen resilience in families.

"The ability to have a simple breakfast of kaya toast and eggs... as a family can really start the day right, and put parents and children in a better mood to bond, to talk and to share," she said.

"These kind of moments can often be elusive for those preoccupied with making ends meet. So it's even more important for them to receive greater help in this area."

The CDCs will also continue to support workers and heartland businesses, she added.

For instance, SME Centres have been set up in each of the five CDCs in partnership with organisations like trade associations, to reach out to heartland enterprises and provide advisory services, among other things, she said.

The CDCs have also been reaching out to workers to raise awareness of the SkillsFuture movement.

"Although the months ahead may hold uncertainties, we can be sure that on the ground, the five CDCs are fortifying the network of support across the heartlands and strengthening our local businesses, our vulnerable families, and Singaporean workers," Ms Low said.

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