SINGAPORE - Low-income families with young children will soon receive more financial support in terms of subsidies, said Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim onThursday (March 5).
Families with pre-schoolers living in Housing Board rental flats or receiving ComCare assistance will automatically qualify for the maximum pre-school subsidies from August 2020 - meaning they could pay as little as $3 a month for full-day childcare, depending on the operator.
This will save time and hassle for families, who will not have to provide additional supporting documents to apply for the subsidies.
Newly-enrolled children from these families will also receive financial support more quickly for enrolment costs such as uniforms, under the Start-Up Grant.
To provide kids from lower-income families with greater accessibility to extra development activities such as speech and drama programmes and excursions, the Preschool Opportunity Fund will be extended for another three years.
Eligible operators which want to carry out such projects can apply to this fund, with a cap of $1,300 per child for the project.
The number of children who have benefited from this fund has increased over the years, from 900 in 2014 to 2,400 in 2019, said Associate Professor Faishal during the debate on his ministry's budget.
He said: "We want to ensure that children from low-income families can access developmental opportunities at their pre-school."
He estimated that about 2,700 children will benefit each year, in the coming three years.
To continue keeping private and non-profit preschools affordable, existing support schemes for operators will also be extended for another three years from March 2020. This will help them to defray costs from infrastructure development, furniture and equipment.
Prof Faishal said that the funding amounts for three of the schemes - Kindergarten Conversion Grant, Enhanced Workplace Childcare Centre Scheme and Enhanced Social Service Agency Development Grant - will be increased and they will be streamlined into a single Infrastructure Support Grant.
He was responding to Mr Darryl David (Ang Mo Kio GRC) who had asked about the support extended to non-government supported pre-schools.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development will also increase funding amounts for the Portable Rental Subsidy and the Teaching and Learning Resource grants which help pre-schools defray the cost of rentals and efforts to improve quality.
Lower-income families with older children between ages seven and 14 who require student care services will also receive more financial support.
From July 1, the ministry will increase the amount of subsidies so that eligible families will receive up to $60 more in Student Care Fee Assistance monthly.
The existing qualifying monthly household income ceiling of $4,000 will be increased to $4,500 and the per capita income will be raised from $1,000 to $1,125.
Both moves are expected to help around 9,000 children.
Families in the lowest gross household income tier of $1,500 a month or less will receive up to 98 per cent in subsidies, capped at $290, and pay as low as $5 a month.
There are currently more than 400 student care centres in schools and neighbourhoods that are registered with the ministry to administer the Student Care Fee Assistance.
The subsidies have been a source of relief for Mr Mohammad Noor Saiful Mohammad Sari, 30, who with his younger brother, Mr Amirul Firdaus, 26, take care of their 11-year-old sister Nurlaila Aaqilah. Their mother died in 2018 due to cancer.
Mr Saiful, who is between jobs, said his sister enjoys going to the PPIS Student Care Centre in Bedok after school daily. She has been enrolled there for about three years.
He said: "She really likes the excursions, as well as interacting with the other children, and will always tell us excitedly about what she did that day."
The additional subsidies are welcome as the family's finances have been tight. "The subsidies allow us to spend the money instead on food, transport, and extra activities to benefit my sister," he added.
Correction note: The definition for families in the lowest gross household income tier, as well as the cap for the subsidies they will receive, has been edited for accuracy. We are sorry for the error.