The disbursement of payouts to firms for the recently announced Jobs Support Scheme will be moved up by two months to provide speedier relief to those struggling to stay afloat, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.
This comes after several MPs, including Mr Seah Kian Peng (Marine Parade GRC), asked whether the 8 per cent wage offset for local workers, which will cover three months ending last December, could be paid earlier than July.
In his reply, Mr Heng said that while the disbursement of payouts for this scheme is operationally complex, the agencies involved have redoubled their efforts and are now aiming to bring forward payment to end-May.
A number of MPs asked for more immediate and extensive support for businesses and workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, over the three days of debate on the Budget.
Mr Heng said in his round-up speech that the Government's top priority is preserving and enhancing jobs. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which employ the bulk of local workers, will benefit from the two biggest measures in the $4 billion Stabilisation and Support Package, said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister.
"As a percentage of revenue, SMEs will receive payouts that are, on average, five times as much as the average for all enterprises," he said.
Apart from the Jobs Support Scheme, enhancements to the Wage Credit Scheme, which currently co-funds wage increases for Singaporean employees earning a gross monthly wage of up to $4,000, will be provided in the second half of the year to spread out support for enterprises in a more sustained way.
Targeted support for those most in need is also forthcoming, he said.
An additional $400 million is being doled out to the hardest-hit tourism, accommodation and aviation sectors as part of the relief package.
Taxi and private-hire car drivers, hawkers, tourist guides, retailers and food and beverage operators who have felt the ripple effects have been allotted an extra $200 million to help them tide over this period, said Mr Heng.
Responding to those who had asked whether more could be done for other groups of self-employed workers and freelancers, Mr Heng said details will be announced by the ministries at a later date.
A TEST OF SOLIDARITY
How we respond to moments of challenge and crisis is a test of our individual resilience and the strength of our character. Even more, it is a test of our social cohesion and solidarity. It is a test of who we are as a people, and as a nation.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER HENG SWEE KEAT
Addressing the timeliness of the support for firms, he said the measures must be considered in totality.
Commercial landlords who qualify for property tax rebates will receive them by the end of May, while corporate income tax rebates will be accounted for in the tax bills that all firms will receive next month.
Rental waivers for government commercial tenants will largely apply to the months of March and April, he added. "These will provide not just financial relief, but also help with enterprises' shorter-term cash flow needs."
Still, all Singaporeans must play their part to help overcome the challenges posed by the virus outbreak, Mr Heng said.
"How we respond to moments of challenge and crisis is a test of our individual resilience and the strength of our character," he said.
"Even more, it is a test of our social cohesion and solidarity. It is a test of who we are as a people, and as a nation. Do we panic and become self-centred, or do we stay calm, band together and look after one another?"