Coronavirus: Weathering the storm

Help for workers, families and businesses

Left: Healthcare workers in the Singapore General Hospital isolation ward assisting in the transfer of a suspected Covid-19 patient to an isolation room. Singapore yesterday reported 52 new coronavirus cases. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN Above: Deputy Prime
Healthcare workers in the Singapore General Hospital isolation ward assisting in the transfer of a suspected Covid-19 patient to an isolation room. Singapore yesterday reported 52 new coronavirus cases. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN
Left: Healthcare workers in the Singapore General Hospital isolation ward assisting in the transfer of a suspected Covid-19 patient to an isolation room. Singapore yesterday reported 52 new coronavirus cases. ST PHOTO: NEO XIAOBIN Above: Deputy Prime
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat (second from left) and NTUC secretary-general Ng Chee Meng (in red T-shirt) meeting hotel staff at Shangri-La's Rasa Sentosa Resort and Spa. The hotel was the site of Singapore's first confirmed case of a person infected with the coronavirus.PHOTO: HENG SWEE KEAT/FACEBOOK

The $48.4 billion supplementary budget unveiled by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday supports Singaporeans during the pandemic. It comes on top of the $6.4 billion set aside for this last month. Tee Zhuo lays out the key measures.

Workers and jobs

HELPING WORKERS STAY EMPLOYED

• The Jobs Support Scheme was introduced in Mr Heng's Feb 18 Budget speech to help companies retain local workers. The scheme will be enhanced and extended, bringing the total support to $15.1 billion for over 1.9 million local employees.

• Originally, the Government was going to pay 8 per cent of the first $3,600 of a worker's monthly wage. Now, it will pay 25 per cent of the first $4,600 of the worker's wage - $4,600 is the median wage here. This will be until the end of this year. Firms will get the payout in three tranches - May, July and October. There will be more help for sectors worse hit by the pandemic. Those in food services will get 50 per cent help in wages. The aviation and tourism sectors will have 75 per cent of wages supported.

HELP FOR THE SELF-EMPLOYED

• Eligible self-employed Singaporeans will get $1,000 in cash a month for nine months. This will cost $1.2 billion in total. Details will be released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) soon.

• To help the self-employed make full use of downtime to train and upskill, another $48 million will go into the Self-Employed Person Training Support Scheme so that it is extended to December this year, from May 1. Hourly training allowances will be raised to $10 from $7.50. This is on top of existing training subsidies that cover up to 90 per cent of fees. Trainees can also use their SkillsFuture credits.

• The Government will also see how it can better support the self-employed to strengthen their financial security.

HELP FOR LOWER-INCOME WORKERS

• The Workfare scheme to help lower-income workers will be enhanced. Previously, they got a one-off payment amounting to 20 per cent of their 2019 payout, with a $100 minimum. This will be increased to $3,000, in cash.

• Each union member can get a one-off payment of up to $300 under the $25 million NTUC Care Fund (Covid-19).

HELP FOR JOB SEEKERS

• About 10,000 new jobs will be created over the next year under an initiative called SGUnited Jobs. This includes jobs for emerging areas in the public sector, long-term roles in essential services, and also short-term jobs to handle the Covid-19 crisis. There will also be private sector openings. A virtual "fair" under the initiative will be launched by Workforce Singapore today with over 2,200 vacancies, focusing on immediately available short-term, temporary jobs.

JOBS AND LIVELIHOODS

Our immediate priority is to save jobs, support our workers and protect livelihoods. Over one-third of the Resilience Budget is dedicated to this.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT 

CASH TO TIDE OVER UNCERTAIN PERIOD

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.

DPM HENG

THREE KEY CONCERNS

The Resilience Budget will address the three Cs on the mind of every business owner now - cash flow, cost, and credit.

DPM HENG

• SGUnited Traineeships, a new programme, will support up to 8,000 opportunities for local first-time job seekers to get work experience. Workforce Singapore will co-share the manpower costs with firms, and MOM will announce more details soon.

HELP FOR WORKERS WHO HAVE LOST THEIR JOBS

• Low-and middle-income workers who lost their jobs due to Covid-19 will get cash grants of $800 a month for three months. This will tide them over while they find new work or seek training. The grant will be administered by Social Service Offices from May to September.


Supporting families

MORE CASH IN HAND

• The Care and Support Package first announced in Mr Heng's Feb 18 Budget will be significantly enhanced. Cash payouts for all Singaporeans will be tripled. Those who were supposed to get $300 will now get $900; those who were getting $200 will now get $600; and those who were getting $100 will get $300. The higher payouts go to those who earn less.

• Parents with at least one Singaporean child aged 20 and below this year will each get an additional $300 in cash. Earlier, it was announced they would get $100 more.

• Lower-income workers and self-employed people aged 35 and above last year who received Workfare payouts last year will get $3,000 this year. Previously, they were to receive a one-off sum amounting to 20 per cent of their payouts last year, with a $100 minimum.

• As announced earlier, all Singaporeans aged 50 and above this year will get a $100 PAssion Card top-up. Yesterday, Mr Heng said the top-up will now be done in cash instead to avoid the need to queue at top-up stations.

• Eligible Singaporeans aged 21 and above will get $300 in grocery vouchers for this year, up from $100 announced earlier. They will get another $100 next year.

STORMY WEATHER

The situation we are heading into looks more like a thunderstorm and not just a drizzle.

PRESIDENT HALIMAH YACOB 

RESPONDING BOLDLY AND DECISIVELY

The Covid-19 pandemic is the most serious crisis we have faced in a generation. It has put all countries around the world to the test - on the medical, economic and social fronts. We have been able to respond boldly and decisively to the outbreak in Singapore because we have forged a cohesive, resilient society... The whole nation has come together in response... I am confident that together, we will ride through this storm, and emerge even stronger.

DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT

• With these measures, a young family will now get about $2,900 instead of $1,300 under the Care and Support Package. A three-generation family will get about $6,700 instead of $1,800.

FREEZE ON GOVERNMENT CHARGES, LOANS

• There will be a freeze on fees and charges for all Government services for a year, from April 1.

• Loan repayment and interest charges suspended for graduates with government loans for university or polytechnic studies, for a year from June 1.

• Late payment charges on Housing Board mortgage arrears suspended for three months.

HELP FOR COMMUNITY GROUPS

• Grants to self-help groups will be doubled to $20m over this year and next year.

• Community Development Councils will get $75 million, up from $20 million in additional funds.

HELP FOR NEEDY FAMILIES

• A sum of $145 million will be set aside to help those who need it through social service offices and community centres, including more flexibility for ComCare applications.

• A temporary relief fund will be set up next month for families who need urgent help.


Businesses

HELP WITH TAXES

• Restaurants, shops, hotels, serviced apartments and tourist attractions will pay no property tax for 2020.

• Businesses in other non-residential properties, such as offices or industrial properties, will get a 30 per cent property tax rebate for this year.

  • $1.9b to strengthen Singapore's economic and social resilience

  • MAKING FIRMS MORE RESILIENT

    • The Government will match $1 for every $2 raised by trade associations and chambers or business groups, double the $1 for every $4 previously. This comes under the SG Together Enhancing Enterprise Resilience programme, which supports industry-led efforts to help firms tide over bad times and build longer-term capabilities.

    • Up to 80 per cent of the costs of investing in technology like automation will be covered for firms under the Productivity Solutions Grant, and 90 per cent under the Enterprise Development Grant, which helps firms upgrade, innovate or venture overseas. Both grants currently cover 70 per cent. The enhancement will last till the end of the year.

    EXPANDED TRAINING SUPPORT

    • From April 1, the arts and culture and land transport sectors will get the better training support announced earlier, including more subsidies for course fees.

    • From May 1, all employers will also get the 90 per cent absentee payroll rate announced previously, which helps with cash-flow issues when employers send workers for training.

    • From April 1, Singaporeans will be able to use their base $500 SkillsFuture credit top-up to take courses earlier, ahead of the full roll-out in October.

    COVID-19 CLEANING EFFORTS

    • The Government will co-fund the cost of professional cleaning required at places with confirmed Covid-19 cases. This is on top of existing offsets for audit and certification fees that those in the tourism, retail and food businesses need, as part of the SG Clean campaign.

    Tee Zhuo

• Income tax payments will be deferred for three months for firms and self-employed persons, with no application required.

HELP WITH LOANS

• $20 billion of loan capital to help support firms and catalyse private sector loan capital.

• The maximum supported loan under the temporary bridging loan programme (TBLP), which addresses cash flow issues in the tourism sector, will be increased to $5 million, from $1 million, and will be expanded to all sectors.

• The quantum for trade loans under the Enterprise Financing Scheme (EFS) will double to $10 million. The Government will also raise the share of its risk to up to 80 per cent, from 70 per cent. A working capital loan for small and medium-sized enterprises under the EFS will have the maximum quantum raised from $600,000 to $1 million.

• Loan insurance premiums under the Loan Insurance Scheme will be further subsidised to 80 per cent, up from 50 per cent. Loan payments for this loan and the TBLP can be deferred on request, subject to assessment by participating financial institutions.

RENT WAIVERS

• Hawkers at centres run by the National Environment Agency will get three months of rental waiver, up from one month.

• Public agencies, including the Housing Board and National Arts Council, will waive rent for eligible tenants, such as social service agencies and charities, for two months, up from half a month.

FEES FROZEN

• All government charges and fees will be frozen for a year from April 1.

SUPPORT FOR WAGES

• The Government will offset 75 per cent of the first $4,600 in monthly wages in the tourism and aviation sectors, and 50 per cent in the food services sector.

 
 
 

AVIATION

• The sector will get $350 million in help. This covers measures such as rebates on landing and parking fees, and rental relief for airlines and the cargo industry.

TOURISM

• $90 million will be set aside to ensure the sector rebounds from the crisis when the time is right.

LAND TRANSPORT

• A further sum of $95 million will go to the point-to-point support package, which helps relieve the shortfall in earnings for taxi and private-hire car drivers.

• Eligible taxi hirers and private-hire car drivers will continue to get a special relief payment of $300 per vehicle a month till end-September.

• Private bus owners will get a one-year road tax rebate and a six-month waiver of parking charges at government-managed parking facilities. This will cost $23 million.

ARTS AND CULTURE

• A sum of $55 million will be set aside to support jobs and training in this industry, including for digitalisation and retaining jobs. The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth will share more details later.

Read Mr Heng's full speech here.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 27, 2020, with the headline 'Help for workers, families and businesses '. Print Edition | Subscribe