LOW-INCOME families in dire straits can now turn to The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund (SPMF) for even more help for their school-age children.
From Oct 1, students from such families who need more time to get on their feet can receive financial support for up to four years, instead of the current two.
The SPMF estimates that it will now have to disburse about $330,000 more a year. The move will benefit about 200 students from families in especially difficult circumstances, including children from single-parent families, those with parents in jail, and those from households with a chronically ill family member.
The fund has also revised the criterion for assistance from the current $450 gross per capita monthly income to net income, which is the amount left after the Central Provident Fund (CPF) deduction.
Social workers feel this is a better indicator of a family's disposable income, and will help catch households which might otherwise miss out on such assistance.
'Over the years, the School Pocket Money Fund has taken steps to extend help where it's most needed to make sure it remains relevant and accessible to needy students,' said Straits Times editor Han Fook Kwang, adding that it has raised the monthly amount that students receive three times in recent years.
The changes were jointly announced yesterday by Ms Bertha Henson, organising chairman of the SPMF, and Ms Tina Hung, deputy chief executive officer of the National Council of Social Service, which administers and distributes the funds.
They were speaking at an annual briefing held at the Singapore Press Holdings News Centre for the fund's disbursing agencies and social workers.
In her opening address to the gathering of about 130, Ms Hung said the extended help for children of families who need extra support would be based on the assessment of social workers.
These social workers will also have more time to work with the families and provide counselling services to help them improve their situation.
Ms Henson, who is also associate editor of The Straits Times, said the extended help would make things less onerous for families with deep-rooted problems and 'who need a longer time to get back on their feet'.
The Ng family are among those hoping to benefit from the extra help.
Mr H.K. Ng, 49, a delivery driver, is the sole breadwinner in his household of six, taking home about $900 a month after CPF deductions. His wife, Madam Y.C. Ho, 43, is a housewife.
Deemed an exceptional case by the SPMF, the family live in a five-room flat but have little disposable income.
Mr Ng's salary is stretched between supporting three school-going children - aged 15, nine and seven - and his 81-year-old father, a stroke patient who is partially blind and lives with them.
He also supports his elderly mother, who lives with another sibling.
His three daughters have been receiving SPMF assistance since February.
'We take each day as it comes,' said Mr Ng in Mandarin.
'I hope we can get help for a longer period of time as my children are still young.'
His eldest daughter Mandy, a Secondary 3 student, said the extra money has allowed her to buy assessment books.
Primary school pupils now get $55 a month from the fund, and secondary school students get $90.
Since its launch by The Straits Times in October 2000, the SPMF has raised nearly $44 million and helped more than 85,000 cases.
Last year, it disbursed $4.1 million and helped about 11,400 children.
For more information on the SPMF, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
To apply for assistance, call the ComCare helpline on 1800-222-0000. The number will connect you to the family service centre nearest your home, so a social worker can advise you on how to apply.