On Friday (5 June), Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong in Parliament said that the gaps and inadequacies of the COVID-19 welfare schemes provided by the Government have “obstruct it from fully meeting the needs of those who need it most”.
Speaking during the Fortitude Budget debate, she noted that the eligibility criteria to apply for COVID-19 Support Grant (CSG) is “overly strict” for the applicants.
“Applicants have to first suffer and then show that they have lost income over three months,” she said.
The beneficiaries of the Grant must be Singapore Citizens or Permanent Residents, aged 16 years and above, who are presently involuntarily unemployed due to retrenchment or contract termination, or presently on involuntary no-pay leave (NPL) for at least three consecutive months, or presently experiencing reduced monthly salary of at least 30 per cent for at least three consecutive months as a result of the economic impact of COVID-19.
Under the Grant, those who have experienced involuntary job loss or presently on involuntary NPL for three consecutive months and above will receive monthly cash grant of up to $800, for three months that will be credited into bank account.
While monthly cash grant of up to $500, for three months, will be credited into bank account of those who are presently experiencing income loss of at least 30 per cent for three consecutive months and above.
With no income over a long period of time, Ms Ong pointed out that “there is no interim support scheme” from May 2020 to help those individuals tide over until such time as they become eligible for the Grant.
She went on, “Further, the amount and duration of support provided under CSG is ungenerous, especially when compared to the Self-Employed Income Relief Scheme (SIRS).”
She reasoned that those eligible applicants who experienced involuntary job loss or are presently on involuntary NPL or a period of at least three consecutive months will have zero income for three consecutive months before receive the monthly cash grant of up to $800, for three months.
“This adds up to $2,400 for a total period of six months of financial difficulty, or $400 per month,” she said, adding that SIRS’s recipients have received an average $1,000 per month instead.
As compared with recipients of SIRS who receive support for nine months, she said that the duration of support provided under CSG is only limited to three months, and cannot be renewed.
“Crucially, members of society in precarious positions are excluded from CSG, such as individuals with no bank account and daily-rated workers,” she noted.
Hence, Ms Ong suggested the Government to reduces the required period for involuntary NPL or duration of income loss from three consecutive months to one month.
The Government should also allow individuals with no bank account and daily-rated or ad-hoc workers to be eligible for the Grant, she says.
As for the duration of support, she recommended that it should be extended from three months to nine months or when applicants are able to secure a job, whichever is earlier.
“If the Ministry disagrees, individuals who have been financially affected by COVID-19 will be forced to apply for ComCare Financial Assistance in the interim or after they have exhausted their full CSG payout,” Ms Ong remarked.
Noting that the income eligibility criteria of CSG and ComCare is “almost five-fold difference”, she then asked the Ministry whether consider to increase the income eligibility caps for ComCare.
It was noted that the income eligibility criterion for CSG is gross monthly household income of $10,000 and below, or monthly per capita income of $3,100 and below, as compared with ComCare’s income eligibility criterion which is monthly household income of $1,900 and below or a per capita income of $650 and below.
On top of this, Ms Ong also proposed the Ministry to increase the flexibility of required supporting documents for such schemes.
“For instance, instead of strictly requiring bank statements, one could be allowed to produce documents that show job or income loss,” she said.
On the same note, Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee on Thursday (4 June) said in Parliament that applicants are not required to be jobless for three full months to be eligible for the Grant.
Mr Lee also said the affected employees are eligible for the Grant as long as they can prove that they will be affected for at least three consecutive months by providing supporting documents, such as a letter from their employer.