Budget debate: Needy families on ComCare can soon automatically get aid from other schemes

ComCare is the Government's key social safety net. PHOTO: MASAGOS ZULKIFLI/FACEBOOK

SINGAPORE - Families on ComCare financial assistance will soon automatically qualify for other help schemes without having to apply separately for them.

To make it more convenient for aid seekers, those applying for ComCare's Short-To-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA) scheme can also do so online at the SupportGoWhere portal in the coming months.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) announced these on Thursday (March 10) as part of its ongoing efforts to enable low-income families to get help more easily and in a shorter time.

By the second quarter of this year, eligible families whose ComCare schemes are approved qualify automatically - without the need to apply - for the Ministry of Education's (MOE) Financial Assistence Scheme, which offers school fee waivers and transport subsidies, among other things, and the MSF's Student Care Fee Assistance scheme.

The MSF also plans to let eligible ComCare families automatically enjoy the maximum fee subsidy for one year for children attending MSF-registered student-care centres or special student-care centres for those with disabilities.

Up to 10,000 students are expected to benefit from these changes.

ComCare is the Government's key social safety net. It provides short- to medium-term financial aid for low-income individuals and families in need, as well as long-term financial aid for the destitute who are permanently unable to work and have little or no family support.

The MSF is also planning to progressively expand the number of schemes where ComCare applicants do not need to apply for separately, such as pre-school subsidies and housing and healthcare schemes, so that they can automatically get help from these other schemes if they get ComCare aid.

For example, by the end of the year, eligible ComCare recipients will automatically get medical and dental subsidies at certain clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme.

About 30,000 ComCare families are expected to enjoy greater convenience and a shorter wait before they get help from these schemes, in what the MSF describes as its bundling of help schemes.

Minister-in-charge of Social Services Integration Desmond Lee said in the debate on the MSF's budget on Thursday (March 10) that there has been a "deep shift" in how the ministry delivers social services in the past few years.

The focus is now on "putting the family at the centre" and meeting families' needs in a proactive and coordinated manner across different government and community agencies, instead of organising social services around programmes or agencies.

He said: "We call this our 3C approach... comprehensive in addressing presenting issues as well as deeper root causes; convenient support, so that families can focus their energies in improving their lives; and coordinated across different agencies and partners."

While those applying for ComCare's SMTA can do so online at the SupportGoWhere portal by the second quarter of the year, they can continue to do it in person too.

Mr Lee said the portal - which consolidates information from different help schemes - will be improved so that users can check if they qualify for certain schemes, apply for aid directly and get updates on their application through a single platform.

Over the next few years, the MSF will allow people to apply for more help schemes through the portal.

In his speech, Minister for Social and Family Development Masagos Zulkifli outlined the different policies the Government has put in place to improve the lives of Singaporeans and, in particular, the low-income groups, such as through ComCare and Workfare Income Supplement, which tops up the wages of lower-income workers.

"We must not allow inequality to become entrenched, as seen in most advanced economies. Going forward, addressing social needs will become even more complex," he said.

Mr Masagos, Mr Lee and Parliamentary Secretary for Social and Family Development Eric Chua also spoke about Community Link (ComLink), which provides comprehensive and coordinated support tailored to the needs of more than 14,000 families with children living in highly subsidised Housing Board rental flats.

Mr Lee described ComLink as the MSF's flagship initiative of its 3C approach.

Mr Masagos said the MSF and its partners, instead of waiting to be approached, seek out low-income families proactively to help them address their problems and to improve their lives through ComLink.

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Mr Chua said ComLink has reached out to more than 6,800 families since the programme started in 2019. Last year, the programme was rolled out in 11 towns and will be introduced nationwide for the remaining 10 towns in the coming months.

One of its beneficiaries is housewife Norhamidah Mah Hassan, 29, whose family of seven receives $1,650 a month under ComCare's SMTA. Her husband is unable to work as he is unwell, and the couple have five children aged between three and nine. The family lives in a one-room rental flat.

Madam Norhamidah, who is expecting her sixth child, said: "Without ComCare, it will be very difficult for us and we have to borrow money from others."

Three of her children are on the MOE financial aid scheme and automatic qualification for the scheme for ComCare recipients like her helps save time and money, as she does not have to pay to photocopy the documents needed to apply for aid.

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