$800m Covid-19 support package for S’pore firms and workers, including more wage subsidies, rental relief

The enhanced payouts, which are based on wages paid in April to June this year, will be disbursed in September. PHOTOS: JASON QUAH, ARTS HOUSE LIMITED, ST FILE

SINGAPORE - An $800 million support package that includes enhanced wage subsidies under the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) and rental relief will be rolled out to help businesses and workers cope with the impact of tightened Covid-19 restrictions.

Announcing the measures on Friday (May 28), Finance Minister Lawrence Wong said affected gyms, fitness studios and performing arts and arts education centres will get 50 per cent of salary support for local employees under the JSS.

Sectors that do not have to suspend operations but are significantly affected by the measures will get 30 per cent of JSS subsidies.

This will help retailers, personal care service providers, museums, art galleries, historical sites, cinemas, indoor playgrounds and other family entertainment centres.

But supermarkets, convenience stores and online retailers will not be eligible for the enhanced wage support.

The enhanced payouts, which are based on wages paid in April to June this year, will be disbursed in September, said the Ministry of Finance (MOF) in a statement.

Employers who put local employees on mandatory no-pay leave or retrench them will not be eligible for JSS payouts for those employees, the ministry added.

Other businesses that wish to appeal for enhanced JSS support can do so at this website.

The various support measures for those affected by the phase two (heightened alert) restrictions from May 16 to June 13 will not require an additional draw on past reserves.

Instead, they will be funded through a reallocation of spending, as some development expenditure can be capitalised under the recently passed Significant Infrastructure Government Loan Act (Singa) Bill, MOF said.

A Supplementary Supply Bill will be tabled at the next Parliament sitting in July to effect the reallocation of spending.

Speaking at a virtual press conference, Mr Wong said the tightened measures have also been helping to curb the spread of the virus.

"Therefore, we do not think there is a need for further tightening in our overall posture," he said, adding that the multi-ministry task force on Covid-19 will give a fuller update at a press conference on Monday.

If there are further extensions of the restrictions beyond June 13, MOF will consider whether support measures can be similarly extended, he added.

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Mr Wong, who co-chairs the task force, said the financial support package handed out this time round is not on the same scale as those allocated last year.

This is because most parts of the economy are still operating, and there are also more government schemes, like the Jobs Growth Incentive, to support new jobs and opportunities.

Last year, close to $100 billion was dedicated to Covid-19 support measures over five Budgets, with up to $52 billion drawn from the reserves.

"Our circumstances today are very different compared with last year. And under such a circumstance, I don't think we should be going to the President to seek permission to draw on our past reserves" said the minister, adding that Singapore must expect to run into situations like this from time to time, when restrictions need to be tightened temporarily to control the spread of the virus.

"So we will have to learn to adapt to such situations, using our own resources rather than to dip into our past reserves, and it's on that basis that we are able to set aside some funds for this package," said Mr Wong.

Rental relief will also be given to small and medium-sized enterprises as well as eligible non-profit organisations in commercial properties, while eligible lower- to middle-income workers and self-employed workers whose income have been affected by the measures can receive a one-off payout of up to $700 under a new Covid-19 Recovery Grant (Temporary).

Under the current Covid-19 measures, services such as dining in, facials and saunas are barred from May 16 to June 13, while tighter capacity caps apply to retail spaces such as shopping centres and showrooms. Social gatherings are capped at two people.

Indoor sports facilities such as gyms, too, face tougher operating restrictions from May 8 to June 13 - including having to close, unless they offer only low-intensity activities, where participants are masked and do not share common equipment.

Some support has been given to businesses and workers to cushion the impact of the measures, but companies have sought more help from landlords and the Government.

For instance, food and beverage businesses will get 50 per cent wage subsidies under the JSS during the period for which dining in is prohibited, up from 10 per cent. Hawkers and coffee shop stallholders who are tenants of government agencies will also get a one-month rental waiver.

At least five mall operators have also pledged to help tenants hit by the stricter measures imposed on May 16, including by offering rental rebates.

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