Lower-income S'pore households affected by Covid-19 to get more financial support

More households are also expected to qualify for payouts with the easing of the eligibility criteria.
More households are also expected to qualify for payouts with the easing of the eligibility criteria.ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Lower-income households that have been directly affected by Covid-19 can now get additional financial support from a fund to help them cope with the protracted pandemic which has impacted many livelihoods.

More households are also expected to qualify for payouts, with the easing of the eligibility criteria to assess their current income instead of the income prior to being affected by Covid-19.

These changes to The Courage Fund took effect on Sunday (Aug 1), said the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and the National Council of Social Service (NCSS).

The fund currently disburses a one-time payout of up to $1,000 to help lower-income households whose incomes have been directly affected by Covid-19 - those who have a member who contracted Covid-19 or is placed on quarantine, stay-home notice, or leave of absence. As of July 13, about 2,300 households have tapped the fund.

When asked, MSF did not say how many additional households are expected to benefit from the changes, which come on the back of the latest round of tightened Covid-19 restrictions that will last till Aug 18.

The ban on dining in and other restrictions during the first round of phase two (heightened alert) from mid-May to mid-June had taken a toll on Singapore's labour market. Manpower Ministry (MOM) data showed that the number of workers employed fell in the second quarter of this year.

In June, some 3.7 per cent or 86,600 residents were unemployed as the pandemic affected both jobs and incomes.

Lower-wage workers are hit particularly hard by the pandemic, MOM data has shown.

On Sunday, MSF and NCSS said households that have been directly affected by Covid-19 more than once and continue to face job or income loss will now be able to get two tranches of assistance.

Households with a current gross monthly income of $6,200 or below, or a gross per capita monthly income of $2,000 and below, can qualify should they meet other existing eligibility criteria.

Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli said lower-income households are hit harder by measures like quarantine orders, "as they deal with the anxiety of financial loss on top of the fear of potentially contracting the virus".

The fund complements other support measures, such as ComCare, the Covid-19 Recovery Grant and the Covid-19 Recovery Grant - Temporary.

It was set up in 2003 when Singapore was hit by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars) outbreak. Last year, the Community Chest sought donations for the fund once again to support those affected by Covid-19 and dependants of those who died from the virus, among others.

As at July 13, the fund had received around $18.4 million in donations from the community to help those affected by Covid-19, with around $2.7 million disbursed to over 2,500 beneficiaries.

Singapore University of Social Sciences associate professor of economics Walter Theseira said Singapore's social safety nets and employment systems are not designed to cope with a disease that might require a substantial number of people to spend an extended time on medical or quarantine leave.

"The existence of the fund is to address a problem that should have been addressed through strengthening a national framework for employment-related medical benefits," he said.

He added that going forward, it is likely that official Government funding will have to be expanded beyond the existing quarantine order allowance scheme for workers serving quarantine orders or stay-home notices.

Marine Parade GRC MP Seah Kian Peng, who chairs the government parliamentary committee for social and family development, welcomes the change to assess applicants' current income, which would make the scheme easier to understand.

He said the disbursements should be much higher going forward, given the enhancements.

Meanwhile, Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Yeo Wan Ling said she has been receiving more requests for help from residents and frontline workers who have been affected by quarantine orders.

"For some of our households, especially those dependent on self-employed daily takings, being in quarantine puts them in a situation where they have a total income or livelihood loss," said Ms Yeo.

The financial support from the fund will help these households to cover the cost of their daily essentials during the periods when a member is under quarantine, she added.

Households wanting to apply for help from the fund can do so via this website. 

Those who need help to complete their applications can call the ComCare Call hotline on 1800-222-0000, e-mail ask_SSO@msf.gov.sg or make an appointment to visit their nearest Social Service Office.