DPM Heng Swee Keat to unveil steps to continue Covid-19 support

He will set out how Govt will help workers and firms even as aid schemes are due to end

Mr Heng's statement comes amid a deepening recession due to the Covid-19 pandemic. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat will set forth, in a ministe-rial statement on Monday, how the Government will continue to support workers and businesses even as aid schemes are due to expire while the Covid-19 pandemic drags on.

He will deliver the statement at 3.30pm via a broadcast carried on The Straits Times website, CNA, CNA938 and Mediacorp MeWatch.

While he assured Singaporeans that the Government would continue to shore up workers and firms, it could not sustain the same level of support indefinitely, Mr Heng, who is also the Finance Minister, wrote in a Facebook post yesterday.

"As more sectors reopen gradually, we will have to evolve and taper the support provided," he said.

"We will continue to provide targeted support to sectors that are hardest hit, including helping them pivot to new opportunities in growth areas."

He said many people had shared with him, in the past few weeks, their anxieties and concerns about their livelihoods.

"Weighing on their minds was also the uncertainty ahead, given that some of the support schemes are expiring. I will be providing more details on how we will evolve and extend our support for our companies and our workers in my ministerial statement on Monday," he said.

Measures announced during the four Budgets earlier this year include the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) of wage subsidies, cash transfers for households, rental and foreign worker levy waivers and financial assistance for the self-employed, among others.

Singapore faces a deepening recession because of the pandemic. Gross domestic product (GDP) shrank by 6.7 per cent in the first half of the year, with the Ministry of Trade and Industry now predicting GDP will decline by 5 per cent to 7 per cent this year, compared with the previous range forecast of minus 4 per cent to minus 7 per cent.

In the second quarter, the economy contracted by 13.2 per cent year on year, sharper than the 12.6 per cent plunge earlier estimated and the worst on record.

Earlier this week, Mr Heng said he has had intensive discussions with government agencies to review and adjust government support schemes. Some are set to taper off before the end of the year.

In the Fortitude Budget announced in May - the fourth round of Covid-19 government aid so far - wage subsidies for local employees under the enhanced JSS were extended to cover salaries this month.

Introduced in the first Budget support package in February, the JSS subsidised up to 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages for each local worker, with sectors more badly hit by the pandemic, such as the aviation and tourism sectors, receiving more support.

Other measures that will end soon include the foreign wor-ker levy waivers and the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme.

In a separate post yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said some businesses are in survival mode and focused on making it through the crisis.

"Such sentiments are completely understandable. It is not easy for entrepreneurs to give up the businesses they have built from scratch and devoted so much resources to," said Mr Chan.

He said it was important to create a conducive environment for firms to flourish, which would include giving them the ability to travel, develop a strong local workforce and access talent.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2020, with the headline DPM Heng Swee Keat to unveil steps to continue Covid-19 support. Subscribe