SINGAPORE - More than $28.1 billion will have been given out to companies to help save jobs during the Covid-19 pandemic, after the final payout of the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) is disbursed from March 31.
The last payout will total more than $145 million and it will be given to over 19,500 employers to support the wages of more than 289,500 local employees.
These employers are in sectors such as food services, which were affected by safe management measures in the second half of 2021.
The JSS is estimated to have saved 165,000 local jobs from March to December 2020 and helped to support local wages, said the Ministry of Finance (MOF), Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (Iras) in a joint media statement on Tuesday (March 29).
The March payout this year will cover wages from November to December last year.
One of the companies that will benefit from the final tranche of payments is local curry puff chain Old Chang Kee.
Its chief financial officer Song Yeow Chung said: “The JSS has allowed Old Chang Kee to alleviate cash flow issues from the decline in retail sales and elevated cost pressures.
“This enabled us to maintain zero retrenchments, and boosted staff morale by paying staff year-end bonuses and increasing or maintaining staff’s salaries.”
He added that it also enabled the company to provide a Covid-19 monthly allowance to full-time staff from January to December last year.
Ms Verene Ng, chief executive of gifting company Risis, said: “Our business was badly affected by the lack of tourists.
“Through the grants received, we were able to keep the business afloat and maintain key employees whilst we evolved our business focus and sales mix, for example, in building our e-commerce business.”
Firms that made the mandatory Central Provident Fund (CPF) contributions for their local staff for those two months by the deadlines will qualify for the payout and eligible employers will be notified by post of their payout amount later this month.
To qualify for the enhanced JSS, employers have to be in the stipulated sectors and meet certain criteria. For example, a company in the food services sector must hold a valid food licence from the Singapore Food Agency, and be registered under the Singapore Standard Industrial Classification (SSIC) codes of 56 or 68104.
These codes mean they are registered as operators of food services, including foodcourts, coffee shops and canteens.
However, ESG and MOF had earlier extended the enhanced JSS to several organisations with valid food licences, but without any SSIC codes.
"This was on the assumption, based on previous experience, that these entities were stallholders offering food services, and therefore should still qualify for the JSS, even without the relevant SSIC codes," they said in the joint statement.
"At that time, we had proceeded with the payments to ensure swift disbursement of funds to all affected entities. But we have subsequently checked in January 2022 and found that the assumption was incorrect for 38 such entities, and these include unions, clubs, associations and religious organisations."
They added that these organisations have a food licence to run a small canteen, for instance, but are not in the food services business.
The 38 organisations have been notified and have committed to return the overpayment of $32.2 million, they said.
Meanwhile, there may be companies that do not have the relevant SSIC codes and hence do not get JSS payments, when they are in fact getting the bulk of their income from food services.
They might have started from different industries before switching to food services and had not updated their codes, for instance.
These companies can appeal and be considered on a case-by-case basis, the agencies said.
Businesses with additional queries on this issue may write in to firstname.lastname@example.org
In addition, the agencies noted that employers must contribute the right amount of CPF for their employees based on actual wages paid, as the employers' CPF contributions are used to determine the amount of JSS payout.
About $5 million in payouts for March 2022 are withheld from 292 employers, pending their review and submission of supporting documents to Iras to substantiate their eligibility.
"Employers will receive their payouts once Iras has verified the authenticity and accuracy of the information submitted. Their payouts would be adjusted or denied if issues are found during the review," the agencies said.
They added: "The penalties for any attempt to abuse the JSS are severe."
Apart from having the payouts denied, offenders can face up to 10 years of jail and a fine.