Ministries, agencies help disadvantaged families make full use of $3,000 grant for children

Research engineer Benjamin Lim with his wife, who is a stay-at-home mum, and their four children. PHOTO: COURTESY OF BENJAMIN LIM

SINGAPORE - When Ms Zamaira Bibi, 34, a divorcee with three daughters, heard about the Child Development Account (CDA) First Step grant, she thought her children were not eligible for it as she did not have a valid marriage certificate.

The grant, introduced in 2016 to help parents with child-raising expenses, sees the Government disbursing $3,000 into each child's CDA without requiring parents to make any prior deposit.

Savings will also be matched dollar for dollar, up to the child's eligible contribution cap, which depends on the number of children the family has.

Ms Zamaira found out that children with single parents were also eligible for the grant after she received a call from a staff member at self-help group Singapore Indian Development Association (Sinda).

With the staff member's guidance, she was able to open a CDA for her youngest daughter, aged three, in just a few days. Her other two daughters are aged 15 and nine.

To help parents like her be better informed and to encourage them to set up CDAs for their children, the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Social and Family Development, People's Association and Sinda said in a joint statement on Monday (June 29) that they are working together to reach out to disadvantaged families of more than 780 children.

The initiative is led by the Uplifting Pupils in Life and Inspiring Families Taskforce (Uplift), an inter-agency task force set up in 2018 and helmed by Second Minister for Education Indranee Rajah to strengthen support for students from disadvantaged families.

The two ministries have partnered the People's Association and Sinda to train about 400 outreach staff and volunteers.

As of June 23, about 150 families were in the midst of opening or have opened the CDA for their children.

The People's Association and Sinda are aiming to complete the outreach by the end of September this year.

The money in the CDA can be used to defray child-raising expenses such as preschool fees and medical bills at Baby Bonus-approved institutions, including childcare centres, kindergartens, hospitals and clinics, pharmacies and optical shops.

Ms Indranee said that since the grant was introduced, many families have benefited, "but we discovered that about 780 children from lower-income households had not yet opened CDAs and hence, had not received the grant".

The reasons for this include parents' lack of awareness or other barriers, she added.

"Uplift therefore tapped PA and Sinda's community networks to contact the families, inform them of the CDA and, where necessary, assist them to set up the account.

"In the current Covid-19 situation, the CDA First Step of $3,000 will provide much needed extra support to these families. This collaboration... reflects the spirit and partnership approach of Singapore Together."

Ms Zamaira, who works as a GrabFood delivery rider, said she will be using the grant for her children's medical expenses and education costs such as school fees.

She has also used it to buy vitamin supplements and new spectacles for them.

Another parent, research engineer Benjamin Lim, said he was not aware of the benefits of the grant and what it could be used for until a People's Association volunteer called him three weeks ago.

Mr Lim, 32, who has four children aged two to 11, three of whom have CDA accounts, said: "I was a bit unclear on what the funds can be used for. The money has pretty much been sitting in the accounts for my other kids."

His children are receiving financial assistance in the form of bursaries.

Mr Lim has since opened an account for his youngest child as well.

He will also be looking into using the CDA funds to pay premiums for MediShield Life or Medisave-approved insurance plans, he added.

Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said: "We want to support lower-income families who may otherwise not be able to fully benefit from the dollar-for-dollar government matching contributions.

"We encourage all parents to set up a CDA for their child, and will help them to do so regardless of their circumstances."

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