COVID-19 SPECIAL

Coronavirus: Call for improvements to help schemes

People waiting to apply for the Temporary Relief Fund at Nee Soon East Community Centre on April 1, the day applications opened. The fund will give a one-time cash grant of $500 to those who have lost their jobs or income due to Covid-19.
People waiting to apply for the Temporary Relief Fund at Nee Soon East Community Centre on April 1, the day applications opened. The fund will give a one-time cash grant of $500 to those who have lost their jobs or income due to Covid-19.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Help from the Government and community groups has kept low-income families afloat for now, but there are several improvements that experts, parliamentarians and social workers say need to be taken.

For example, struggling families told The Sunday Times they were grateful for the ComCare financial aid they receive, but this also meant they are disqualified from other Covid-19 support schemes such as the Temporary Relief Fund (TRF) and Covid-19 Support Grant (CSG).

The TRF gives $500 to those who lost their jobs or at least 30 per cent of their income due to Covid-19, while the CSG gives $2,400 over three months to eligible residents who lost their jobs and agree to actively search for a job or undergo training.

Nominated MP Anthea Ong proposed extending both schemes to also include families on ComCare to ease their cash flow at this time.

More immediate relief can also come in the form of rental waivers and further rebates to service and conservancy charges, she added, a call echoed by Dr Ng Kok Hoe, senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

Another issue is the sheer complexity, number and changes in schemes, with measures from three Budget support packages rolled out in 48 days. Most have several eligibility conditions and may require quite a bit of paperwork, so applying to get help can be a confusing task.

For example, a form to apply for a subsidised laptop and Internet plan - which children need for home-based learning during the circuit breaker period - is a 12-page document packed with paragraphs of fine print and a staggering number of fields that need filling.

During a crisis, policy interventions that apply automatically to large groups of people work better than "small and selective schemes that require individuals to seek help and pass complicated means tests", said Dr Ng.

"They (also) do not add to the administrative pressure on public agencies and are less prone to implementation problems," he said.

  • TO DONATE AND SEEK HELP

  • Members of the public who wish to help can:

    • Donate to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund at www.spmf.org.sg/donate

    • Or to Beyond Social Services' Covid-19 Family Assistance Fund at give.asia/campaign/covid-19-response-fund

    Those who need help can call the 24-hour National Care Hotline on 6202-6868.

Volunteers from entities like A Good Space, ReadAble, Beyond Social Services, Cassia Resettlement Team and church-related groups have given tailored help for families.

More localised efforts have also been made. Acknowledging that it can be daunting for those in financial distress, Nee Soon GRC MP Henry Kwek said he will be setting up a "one-stop" service over the phone or in person where needed, to help low-income residents in his ward make sense of available help.

The numerous challenges have prompted calls for direct cash payouts - like the one-off $600 Solidarity Payment - to be made regularly for the next few months.

Economist and NMP Walter Theseira mooted such a proposal in Parliament this month.

Under what he dubbed the Majulah Universal Basic Income Scheme, all Singaporeans will get $110 a week for 12 weeks.

It would be funded through a temporary personal income tax hike of 4.25 per cent next year, when the economy is expected to have recovered. This means the least well-off will benefit the most - without the need for means-testing - while the high-income will help finance it.

 
 
 
 

Beyond Social Services' deputy executive director Ranganayaki Thangavelu said Associate Professor Theseira's idea should be considered as many disadvantaged families already suffer debt burdens, which will worsen if the circuit breaker is extended.

"There may be more periodic disruptions... We are not sure how long this will continue and there will be a snowball effect," she said.

Cassia Resettlement Team head Lim Jingzhou, who has been organising efforts to help low-income families, said problems like lack of coordination and unclear roles between different social service agencies, community groups, grassroots and public agencies have resulted in unmet needs in some areas and duplication of effort in others.

Covid-19 has shown that the Singapore Together movement "needs to come with a commitment not just to use community efforts as 'hands and legs' but also in decision-making processes", he said.

• Visit these websites to donate: 

The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund campaign

SGUnited

GIVE.asia

Giving.sg

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 19, 2020, with the headline 'Call for improvements to help schemes'. Subscribe