Government to pump in $8b more for Covid-19 support measures: DPM Heng Swee Keat

It will be spent on jobs, growth opportunities; wage subsidies to be extended but fine-tuned

As the Covid-19 pandemic drags on and the impact on businesses and jobs mounts, support for employers to pay the wages of their workers will be extended and become more targeted.

In total, $8 billion more will be spent to save jobs, create new ones, and seize new growth opportunities, said Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat.

In a ministerial statement broadcast yesterday, Mr Heng said that the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS), which comprises wage subsidies to help firms retain local workers, is ending soon and cannot be sustained at the current level.

"It draws heavily on our reserves and risks trapping our workers in unviable businesses. Some sectors are also recovering faster than others," explained Mr Heng.

While the JSS, which covers wages up to this month, will now be extended to cover wages paid up to March next year, the support is tiered based on how quickly each sector is expected to recover.

Firms in the hardest-hit aerospace, aviation and tourism sectors, which are currently getting 75 per cent wage support, will get 50 per cent wage support for seven more months.

The built environment sector will get 50 per cent support for two more months, before it is lowered to 30 per cent of wages paid up to March next year, in line with the phased resumption of construction activities. Most other sectors will get 10 per cent support for seven more months.

Those that are doing well, such as biomedical sciences, financial services, and infocommunications and technology, will get this amount of support up to December.

"Even at 10 per cent support, the payouts cover more than half of employers' Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions. This ensures that we continue to build up the CPF savings of our workers during the crisis," said Mr Heng.

The Covid-19 Support Grant, which was introduced in May to help Singaporeans who have been laid off or have suffered significant income loss, will be extended to December. To qualify, unemployed applicants must demonstrate job search or training efforts. The application window, which was slated to end next month, will now reopen on Oct 1.

More lower-income workers - including those who have received or will be receiving Workfare for work done this year - stand to receive the $3,000 cash payout under the Workfare Special Payment.

The measures announced yesterday come on top of the nearly $100 billion committed under the four Budgets this year.

They will be funded by the reallocation of monies from other areas, such as development expenditures that were delayed due to Covid-19.

There are no plans to draw on past reserves beyond the $52 billion for which President Halimah Yacob's approval was obtained earlier.

The support has been extended amid a deepening recession, with gross domestic product shrinking by 6.7 per cent in the first half of the year. In the second quarter, the economy contracted by 13.2 per cent year on year, the worst on record.

Retrenchments more than doubled in the second quarter, with 6,700 workers laid off, up from 3,220 in the first quarter.

While no one knows what the post-Covid-19 world will look like, it will not be business as usual, given the intensification of the competition between the United States and China, the reconfiguration of global supply chains and the acceleration of digital shifts, Mr Heng said.

He acknowledged that it will be a difficult journey ahead, but assured Singaporeans, whom he called "one people with extraordinary courage, commitment and can-do spirit", that they will not walk alone.

"We have the fortitude - to improvise, adapt and overcome the uncertainties. We have the resilience - to weather the difficulties, turn challenges into opportunities and prepare for the future," he said.

"And we will stand in solidarity as one united Singapore - to beat this crisis and emerge stronger as a nation."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 18, 2020, with the headline 'Govt to pump in $8b more for Covid-19 support measures'. Subscribe