More people received financial help via ComCare in past year

Cash aid of $151m given out via scheme in FY2019, biggest sum disbursed in past 5 years

Mr Koh Phee Kai, who lives in a one-room flat, has been on the Long-Term Assistance scheme since 2016. He receives $418 a month. He applied for financial aid after being retrenched from his security guard job.
Mr Koh Phee Kai, who lives in a one-room flat, has been on the Long-Term Assistance scheme since 2016. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

More people received financial assistance from the Government in the past year, with about 78,600 individuals benefiting from the various ComCare schemes, the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) said yesterday.

According to the MSF's ComCare Annual Report, there was an increase of about 4 per cent in the number of financial aid recipients in its last financial year - which ended on March 31 this year - from the year before.

The Government gave out $151 million in cash assistance through the ComCare schemes in FY2019. This is a 19 per cent jump from the 2018 financial year and is the largest sum disbursed in the past five years.

The Community Care Endowment Fund (ComCare Fund) is a key social safety net for lower-income families and it comprises schemes such as the Short-To-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA) and Long-Term Assistance.

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said: "There has been a broad-based increase in the number of people who received ComCare support in the last financial year. We have also seen a significant increase of 20 to 30 per cent in ComCare applications in recent months, compared with the same period last year.

"As social needs grow and economic outlook remains uncertain, we will continue to reach out to those in need and focus our resources on those with greater needs."

The increase in ComCare recipients was driven largely by a rise of about 5 per cent in SMTA recipients.

SMTA provides temporary financial aid and other forms of help to tide recipients through tough times as they are looking for a job or are ill, among other reasons.

The bulk of ComCare recipients, about 64,400 individuals, were on SMTA in the last financial year.

The Interim Assistance Schemes are administered by social service offices and other community groups - such as family service centres - to provide immediate financial aid to those who require urgent and temporary financial relief.At the same time, the number of individuals on the Interim Assistance Schemes increased by about 16 per cent to about 7,700 in the last financial year.

About 9,600 children received Student Care Fee Assistance in the last financial year, about 6 per cent higher than the year before, due to more student care centres being set up in schools, the MSF said.

The only scheme to buck the rising trend was the Long-Term Assistance scheme, also known as Public Assistance, which provides a cash sum to the destitute who cannot work due to old age or illness and have little or no family support.

The number of individuals on Long-Term Assistance fell by around 3 per cent to about 4,400 in the last financial year.

This is because there were fewer ComCare applicants who are permanently unable to work and without family support, the MSF spokesman said.

Mr Koh Phee Kai, 70, has been on the Long-Term Assistance scheme since 2016. He receives $418 a month. The bachelor applied for financial aid after being retrenched from his security guard job in 2015.

He also gets $260 a month from his Central Provident Fund and uses the money to pay for his expenses.

"The sum I receive now is less than half of what I used to earn when I was working. But I cannot work any more because of my bladder and bowel incontinence, so I have to rely on these payouts," said Mr Koh, who lives alone in a one-room rental flat.

Ms Joyz Tan, senior social worker at Fei Yue Community Services, noted that many of the lower-wage workers are working part time, temporarily or on an ad hoc basis - and they are the ones more likely to lose their jobs when business is down.

Many of them also work in the retail and food and beverage sectors, which were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Madam Zaleha Ahmad, centre director of the Marriage Hub at AMP Singapore, said many of the families on ComCare usually have just one breadwinner, on whose wage a few members depend.

To tide Singaporeans through the recession, the MSF has automatically extended by six months the ComCare scheme for beneficiaries whose aid is due for review by this month. New beneficiaries will also generally receive at least six months of assistance.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2020, with the headline 'More people received financial help via ComCare in past year'. Print Edition | Subscribe