Parliament: 125 applications for ComCare Interim Assistance approved in April, higher than monthly average

An additional $60 million has been committed to ComCare under the Resilience Budget in March 2020. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Social service offices (SSOs) approved 125 applications for ComCare Interim Assistance in April, up from the monthly average of 72 for the preceding six months.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee on Tuesday (May 5) provided this figure to illustrate how SSOs have exercised flexibility to provide immediate help to low-income households affected by the coronavirus pandemic.

He told the House that an additional $60 million has been committed to ComCare under the Resilience Budget in March, on top of the $180 million for the 2020 financial year.

The initial $180 million sum was an increase of about 9 per cent from the previous financial year.

Mr Lee was responding to Nominated MP Anthea Ong, on the total amount allocated under the Unity, Resilience, and Solidarity Budgets for increased flexibility to ComCare in the light of the pandemic.

He added that the households on ComCare are receiving support for a longer duration, which will provide greater assurance to those whose livelihoods have been impacted by Covid-19 as they seek new jobs or retraining opportunities.

Since April, SSOs have provided at least six months of assistance to new recipients of ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA).

In that month, there were 1,441 approved applications that were given six months of assistance or longer, higher than the monthly average of 946 in the preceding six months.

In 2019, the median monthly assistance quantum that a household on SMTA received was about $450, while the median duration of assistance per tranche was about four months.

Households who are already on ComCare will also have their assistance automatically extended for a further six months without them having to approach the SSOs, Mr Lee said.

This applies to those whose assistance will end before July.

The need for automatic extension of assistance will be reviewed on a quarterly basis, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) had previously said.

Those who have greater needs amid the Covid-19 crisis can also approach the SSOs who will assess their circumstances and provide the necessary support, Mr Lee added.

ComCare Interim Assistance is for those who need urgent and immediate financial assistance for less than three months, while ComCare SMTA provides short-term help for those who lose their job or fall into financial difficulties.

To be eligible, both schemes require applicants to have a household income of $1,900 and below, or a per capita household income of $650 and below.

Ms Ong asked if the MSF will consider widening the income eligibility criteria for ComCare schemes to be closer to those for the Temporary Relief Fund and Covid-19 Support Grant.

Those applying for the Temporary Relief Fund must have had a household income of $10,000 and below, or per capita household income not exceeding $3,100, before their employment or income was affected by Covid-19, among other criteria.

The Covid-19 Support Grant supports those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic, employees placed on involuntary no-pay leave for at least three consecutive months and employees who have had their salaries reduced by at least 30 per cent for three consecutive months, among other criteria.

Replying, Mr Lee said the income criteria for ComCare schemes are not hard thresholds, and each case is considered on its own merit.

"SSOs take into account the applicants' circumstances and needs and exercise flexibility as needed to provide the necessary financial assistance and social support," he said.

Help schemes such as the Temporary Relief Fund, which provided a one-off cash grant of $500 in April, were rolled out to help lower- and middle-income households affected by Covid-19 tide through financial challenges, he noted.

"These measures are part of Government's response to mitigate the broad-based impact of Covid-19 on Singaporeans... The Government will continue to assess the situation and provide more support to affected Singaporeans if needed," he said.

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