$5.1b more to support firms, families as workplaces close today

Extra help comes as Govt is acutely aware circuit breaker will be painful: DPM Heng

The enhancement to the Jobs Support Scheme will help workers keep their jobs, and enable businesses to resume operations quickly when the circuit breaker is lifted. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

An additional $5.1 billion will be set aside to save jobs and support businesses and families as Singapore heads for a month of heightened safe distancing measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

In an unprecedented third round of support measures unveiled in Parliament yesterday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced that the Government will subsidise 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages for all 1.9 million local workers this month.

Many firms cannot operate at all or can do so only at a much reduced level in the coming weeks, he said, but stressed that they should still retain and pay their workers, with enhancements to the Jobs Support Scheme.

Two weeks back, the scheme entailed subsidising 25 per cent of the first $4,600 of wages for all local employees for nine months this year, with higher subsidy levels for firms in harder-hit sectors - 50 per cent for food services and 75 per cent for aviation and tourism.

Mr Heng said the first payout - to include the higher subsidy - will be brought forward from next month to this month, to help businesses meet pressing cash needs. Firms on Giro and PayNow will get the cash next week, and others will get it by cheque about a week later.

"The aim of this strong support is to directly reduce firms' wage costs, to help them retain their workers," Mr Heng said. "I expect firms to make use of this Jobs Support Scheme to continue paying your workers and refrain from putting workers on no-pay leave during this period or, worse, retrenching them."

The monthly foreign worker levy that firms have to pay will also be waived for April, while a levy rebate of $750 will be granted for each work permit or S Pass holder so that companies can resume operations quickly once the circuit breaker is lifted.

In addition, the eligibility criteria for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme will be broadened to include those who also earn a small income from employment, as well as those who live in properties with an annual value of up to $21,000, instead of up to $13,000.

And all adult Singaporeans will receive a one-off cash handout of $600, instead of the $300 Care and Support payout that had been announced in the supplementary budget on March 26.

This payment will be credited directly into bank accounts by next Tuesday, while higher tiers of Care and Support payouts for those with lower income and the additional $300 payment for parents with at least one Singaporean child under 20 will be brought forward to June from August.

Mr Heng said that these and other forms of support come as the Government is acutely aware that the circuit breaker - which will see all schools and recreation venues closed, and dining-in at eateries halted - will be painful, even as it is essential to curb transmission of Covid-19. "It will disrupt businesses and impact workers severely," he said. "Many will be anxious about their jobs and families."

But these tough decisions have to be made as an escalation in the outbreak would hit lives and livelihoods harder. "We must take short-term pains, to avoid even sharper pain later."

Today, the Minister for Law will introduce a Bill to compel property owners to pass on the Government's 100 per cent property tax rebate to tenants in full. For most, this works out to slightly more than one month of rent.

The Government will also further enhance financing support for enterprises, and increase its risk share of loans under several loan financing schemes from 80 to 90 per cent.

The additional measures necessitate a further draw on past reserves beyond the $17 billion sought in last month's supplementary budget, and Mr Heng said he has sought and obtained President Halimah Yacob's in-principle support to draw an additional $4 billion from the nation's reserves, while the remaining $1.1 billion will be funded from "the fiscal space of this term of government".

President Halimah said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and DPM Heng discussed the severity and urgency of the situation with her last week. "I agreed with them that we need to provide additional support quickly and decisively," she added. "We are entering a critical phase in our nation's fight against Covid-19."

The latest injection means Singapore is allocating about $60 billion to fight Covid-19 to date - of which $6.4 billion was set aside in the Feb 18 Unity Budget, and a further $48.4 billion in the March 26 Resilience Budget. Parliament will continue its debate on the additional spending today.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 07, 2020, with the headline $5.1b more to support firms, families as workplaces close today. Subscribe