Coronavirus: DPM Heng Swee Keat to unveil additional support measures next week

DPM Heng said there will be additional support for households and vulnerable groups. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Additional support for businesses and families will be announced by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat next week, when Parliament sits from Monday (April 6).

This will be "over and above" what has been provided in both Budget 2020 and the supplementary budget announced earlier, he said in a Facebook post on Friday (April 3).

The new support measures will "help businesses retain their capacity and their workers, so that they can resume activities once the circuit breaker is lifted", he said, referring to the stricter measures announced earlier in the day.

"We will also give additional support to households and vulnerable groups," added DPM Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.

The aid for these various groups will help tide them over the weeks ahead, up to at least a month, he said.

DPM Heng's Facebook post elaborates on some of the measures announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong a couple of hours earlier in an address to the nation.

These "circuit breaker" measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus in Singapore include a shutdown of most workplaces and a full roll-out of home-based learning for students.

PM Lee acknowledged that the measures will severely impact businesses and workers.

"This is already a very difficult time for them. We will help them come through this," he said in his address.

Expressing the same sentiments, DPM Heng said businesses have also felt the pain of the earlier safe-distancing measures.

"These are already trying times, and the additional measures will add to their burden. Workers are also worried about their jobs and their livelihoods. I understand your anxieties," he added.

Next week, legislation will also be introduced in Parliament to require landlords to pass on property tax rebates in full to their tenants.

In addition, new temporary legislation will be proposed to let businesses and individuals defer certain contractual obligations for a period, and these include paying rent and loans as well as meeting work deadlines.

HELP FOR VULNERABLE GROUPS AND PARENTS OF YOUNG CHILDREN

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee also gave Singaporeans the assurance on Friday (April 3) that vulnerable groups will be taken care of.

He was speaking at a media press conference held by the multi-ministerial task force dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Lee said that while parents should keep their children at home from April 8 to May 4 under the new measures, pre-schools will remain open to serve parents who have to continue to work in the essential services or who are unable to find alternative caregiving arrangements.

Priority will be given to children of healthcare workers, low-wage or daily-rated workers and those from vulnerable families with no support, he added.

Parents should approach their child's pre-schools for further help, he said, adding that those with children in student care can approach their child's primary schools.

The Early Childhood Development Agency will waive minimum attendance requirement for pre-school subsidies in April, while the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) will do the same for subsidies under the Student Care Fee Assistance scheme. This will allow parents to continue to receive fee subsidies, even though their children will not be attending pre-school or student care for a month.

MSF will suspend or reduce non-essential services, but Social Service Offices (SSOs) will remain open so that those in need can continue to get social and financial aid with appropriate safe distancing measures in place, the minister said.

The sources of such aid include the Temporary Relief Fund and the Covid-19 Support Grant, as well as ComCare assistance schemes.

Applications for the Temporary Relief Fund will remain open till the end-April and there is no need to rush, Mr Lee said.

The fund will give a one-time cash grant of $500 to those who have lost their jobs or income because of the coronavirus outbreak.

The Covid-19 Support Grant, which will open for application in May, will provide longer-term financial aid and job support.

More than 60,000 applications for the Temporary Relief Fund have been submitted since applications opened on April 1, and an online form will be launched next week to reduce the need to travel to community centres (CCs) and SSOs to apply for the fund, Mr Lee said.

Remote video URL

More details will be announced later, he added.

Other safe distancing measures when applying for the Temporary Relief Fund will be rolled out as well, he said.

Counter services for the Temporary Relief Fund at CCs and SSOs will close for the weekend, and re-open on Monday (April 6) morning.

Over the weekend, applicants can collect application forms for the fund from designated self service areas at the SSOs and CCs, and submit completed forms in the drop-off boxes. They can also download the form.

From next week, those who do not wish to use the online system, or who have further queries, can still approach CCs and SSOs.

Residential homes will also continue to serve vulnerable groups such as seniors, persons who are destitute or those with disabilities, and children and youth under statutory care and rehabilitation.

MSF services and funded social service agencies involved in crisis interventions for serious, high-risk and urgent cases will also continue to operate, such as cases of family violence, child abuse, self-harm and self-abuse.

The National Council of Social Service will also help its members to build up capabilities to provide services using technology and remote means during this period, and work closely with social service agencies and charities to ensure the continuity of services for the day-to-day living of vulnerable residents , like food support services.

Said Mr Lee: "While these measures will cause inconvenience, they are necessary to protect everyone's health and safety and we seek your understanding and cooperation on this."

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