The coronavirus has seen more Singaporeans and permanent residents on government financial aid in March and April this year, compared with the same period last year.
Applications approved for the ComCare Short-to-Medium Term Assistance and ComCare Long-Term Assistance schemes have increased significantly, figures from the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) show.
In March, there were 4,754 approved applications for the schemes, up 18 per cent from March last year.
In April, the number of approved applications rose to 5,020, a 33 per cent increase over April last year.
"Covid-19 has significantly impacted the economy and the lives of many Singapore citizens and permanent residents, causing many people to lose their jobs, experience a decrease in income or be placed on no-pay leave," an MSF spokesman told The Sunday Times. "Our ComCare assistance is one of the various government schemes to support these affected groups."
The MSF, which oversees the schemes, has exercised greater flexibility in the assessment of ComCare applications, the spokesman said. This includes giving approval for a longer duration of support - at least six months in general - from the get-go, an automatic six-month extension for households whose ComCare expires between now and July, and looking at each case on its merit instead of sticking strictly to only income criteria.
Mr Mohammad Ridzuan, 44, is among those getting ComCare. The delivery driver and his family had already been on the scheme when Covid-19 hit Singapore's shores, but they are now receiving more monthly assistance after he was let go on April 9. From bringing home about $1,400 a month, he suddenly had no monthly income.
"During that period, I had no more cash and all my bills were stuck - I couldn't pay," said the sole breadwinner who lives with his wife, 42, and four children aged 12 to 16.
The ComCare cash payout of $1,700 a month goes towards putting food on the table and buying diapers for one of his sons, who is autistic, he said, adding that the Social Service Office is looking at ways to provide more help to his family.
Meanwhile, the increase in people going on the government assistance schemes has also made it easier for people to apply, said another ComCare recipient, Mr Koh.
The 33-year-old, who declined to give his full name, was just making a career switch from selling chemicals to insurance when Covid-19 hit and the Government put in place the circuit breaker. This meant he was no longer able to canvass for clients, and his income fell from about $2,000 to $3,000 a month to zero.
"I was very stressed, it caused me sleepless nights. I literally fell asleep only in the morning because of fatigue," he said of why he decided to apply for ComCare. "I think more people are exposed to it, more people know what kind of help there is and there is also less of a stigma."
He and his wife, 31, have two daughters, aged seven and three. The family now gets $1,450 in cash a month from ComCare.
There has also been high demand for other grants and schemes. The Covid-19 Support Grant, for Singaporeans and PRs who have lost their jobs or seen a significant reduction in their pay, has seen 15,000 people apply since applications opened on May 4. The MSF is assessing the applications, which take two weeks to process.
Organisations and individuals have also raised some $17 million for two funds to help vulnerable Singaporeans facing difficulties resulting from the coronavirus crisis.
Since February, The Courage Fund, which provides relief to vulnerable individuals and families, has received more than $8 million from corporate donors. The Invictus Fund, which channels private donations to social service agencies and was set up in April, has raised over $2 million in just over a month.
• If you know someone who needs help, you can call the ComCare hotline on 1800-222-0000.
• If you are a senior, or know a senior in your area, who needs help, you can contact the Agency for Integrated Care on 1800-650-6060.
• If you need psychological or emotional support, the 24-hour National Care Hotline is 1800-202-6868. It is manned by professionals who are trained in psychological first aid.
Individual donors have given close to $7 million to both funds, with two philanthropists alone giving $2 million, said the Community Chest and National Council for Social Service (NCSS) in a statement yesterday.
In all, more than 70 companies have generously donated to the two funds, while 10 others have contributed essential supplies, including masks, hand sanitisers and thermal scanners to vulnerable segments of the population, said NCCS and ComChest.
In a Facebook post yesterday, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said: "I would like to thank all our corporates for being a force for good in these challenging times. We are encouraged by this generosity, and welcome more to give back to the local and international community so that we can weather this global health crisis together."