Parliament: NCSS to set up new fund to channel private donations to social service agencies offering critical services

The Courage Fund, which supports healthcare and front-line workers, and lower-income families affected by Covid-19, has received more than $8 million in donations. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - The Covid-19 outbreak has severely impacted people's lives, and the authorities are making adjustments along the way to help those whose jobs and incomes have been affected, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said in Parliament on Tuesday (April 7).

As part of these efforts, the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) will set up a new fund, The Invictus Fund, which will be built up from private donations, Mr Lee announced. It will channel private donations to social service agencies that deliver critical services to vulnerable groups, and more details will be announced later.

More than 27,000 applications for the Temporary Relief Fund have been submitted online since the online system was launched on Monday, Mr Lee said. This brings the total number who have applied for the fund to more than 100,000, since applications opened on April 1.

The Temporary Relief Fund, which will be open for applications till the end of April, will give a one-time cash grant of $500 to those who have lost their jobs or income because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Courage Fund, which supports healthcare and front-line workers, and lower-income families affected by Covid-19, has also received more than $8 million in donations, said Mr Lee. The NCSS has disbursed grants to a front-line worker who contracted Covid-19, and reached out to family members of the others who died due to the virus. Grants will be disbursed to some of them by this week, Mr Lee added.

More help is also on the way, he said. Those who have lost their jobs due to retrenchment, or have had their employment contracts terminated due to Covid-19, will be supported by the Covid-19 Support Grant, which will open for application in May.

Successful applicants will get $800 a month for three months, while participating in a job search or re-training programme.

Those who had earlier applied for the Temporary Relief Fund and had given their consent to be assessed for the Covid-19 Support Grant do not need to put in a separate application, Mr Lee said. The Social Service Office will contact them if they require further information.

In parallel, the Ministry of Social and Family Development is also adjusting existing schemes and processes to accommodate the dynamic situation, including simplifying the application processes for ComCare assistance for lower-income households who qualify. They are now able to submit supporting documents through e-mail, and longer ComCare support that typically lasts for six months is also provided for new cases, he added. In 2019, such support lasted for four months on average.

The Silver Generation Office has also arranged for meal deliveries for seniors who live alone and have mobility issues, and updated them of Covid-19 precautionary measures.

In a Facebook post on Tuesday, Mr Lee also said that while the MSF has been making adjustments to make the Temporary Relief Fund more flexible and responsive, it has also received feedback on how a "very small number of people" are taking advantage of the schemes, or encouraging others who do not need help to try to "cheat" the system.

This has disheartened him and his colleagues, said Mr Lee. "You are not cheating just the Government. You are doing this at the expense of many Singaporeans who are in genuine crisis, and need this help. Those who've written to me about such abuse are rightly indignant," he said.

The reports of abuse have been sent to Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, said Mr Lee. "He told me his officers might be able to find some time later on, to have a chat with them."

The MSF's priority is to disburse the Temporary Relief Fund, the Covid-19 Support Grant and other help schemes, said Mr Lee. They have been accommodating a wide variety of supporting documents as proof of loss of income or jobs due to Covid-19, including WhatsApp messages, handwritten notes, and screenshots for apps. Those with no documents can also make a legal declaration on the form, and MSF will accept the application, he added.

"We need to focus on improving the way we provide assistance, to help affected people and vulnerable communities."

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