$800m COVID aid package to help workers and firms, no need to tap reserves: Lawrence Wong

·Editorial Team
·4-min read
Finance Minister Lawrence Wong
Yahoo News Singapore file photo

SINGAPORE — The government will spend some $800 million on support measures to assist workers and companies hit by the ongoing Phase 2 (Heightened Alert), said Finance Minister Lawrence Wong on Friday (28 May). 

Media reports also cited Wong as saying that authorities are unlikely to embark on "further tightening" of prevailing measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus as current measures are working. The multi-ministry taskforce on COVID-19, which Wong co-chairs, will give a fuller update on Monday.

The support package will comprise, among others, enhancements to the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) for affected sectors, rental relief for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and non-profit organisations (NPOs) in commercial properties, and the COVID-19 Recovery Grant (Temporary) (CRG-T).

Wong said that the government would not need to draw on its past reserves to fund the measures. He noted that most parts of the economy are still operating, while there are now more government support schemes like the Jobs Growth Incentive.

"We must expect to run into situations like these from time to time, when we experience an occasional outbreak of cases in our community, and we will then need to tighten restrictions temporarily to control the spread of the virus.

"So, we will have to learn to adapt to such situations, using our own resources rather than to dip into our past reserves. And it is on that basis that we are able to set aside some funds for this package."

Wong, who was speaking at a virtual press conference open only to Singapore Press Holdings and Mediacorp outlets, as well as the social news site Mothership, added that the support package will be funded by a reallocation of spending. The minister will table a Supplementary Supply Bill at the next parliamentary sitting in July to effect the reallocation.

On 16 May, Singapore entered a renewed period of restrictions on social gatherings and other activities, amid a spike in community cases. The rules, such as a ban on dining-in at all food & beverage (F&B) establishments and lower crowd capacity at public places like malls, are in effect till 13 June. 

Enhancements to JSS

INFOGRAPHIC: Ministry of Finance
INFOGRAPHIC: Ministry of Finance

Affected gyms, fitness studios, performing arts organisations, and arts education centres will be given enhanced JSS support to the tune of 50 per cent for the period of Phase 2. These are establishments which have been required to suspend many, if not all, of their operations.

For sectors that are not required to suspend operations but are significantly affected by the tightened measures, JSS support will be enhanced to 30 per cent for the same period. This covers businesses in the retail sector, affected personal care services, museums, art galleries, historical sites, cinemas, indoor playgrounds and other family entertainment centres. 

Some retailers like supermarkets, convenience stores and online retailers will not be eligible for the enhanced support.

The enhanced payout, based on wages paid from April to June, will be disbursed in September.

Rental relief

INFOGRAPHIC: Ministry of Finance
INFOGRAPHIC: Ministry of Finance

To support businesses with rental costs, there will be rental relief given to SMEs, and eligible non-profit organisations (NPOs) with an annual revenue not exceeding $100 million, who are tenant-occupiers of qualifying commercial properties.

Qualifying tenants at government-owned commercial properties will be granted a month of rental relief. This is aligned to the rental waiver for hawker stalls and coffee shops provided during P2(HA). Tenants will be required to pass down the rental relief received to qualifying sub-tenants, if any.

And while some landlords at privately-owned commercial properties have given rental waivers or rebates to support their tenants, the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore (IRAS) will also disburse a 0.5-month rental relief cash payout directly to qualifying tenants as part of a new Rental Support Scheme. 

The payout will be disbursed starting from mid-August 2021 and computed based on the latest contractual gross rent within the period 14-29 May.

Separately, property owners who run an SME business or NPO on their own property will also be eligible for the cash payout, computed based on the Annual Value of the property (or part of) for Year 2021 as at 14 May.

Help for hawkers, individuals

INFOGRAPHIC: Ministry of Finance
INFOGRAPHIC: Ministry of Finance

To help those in sectors such as F&B, hawkers, retail, arts as well as sports and fitness, the CRG-T scheme will provide one-off support for lower- to middle-income employees and self-employed persons who are financially impacted as a result of the tightened measures.

Individuals who experience at least one month of involuntary no-pay leave (NPL) or income loss of at least 50 per cent for at least one month during P2(HA), may apply for CRG-T. Eligible individuals placed on involuntary NPL may receive a one-off payout of up to $700, and those experiencing significant income loss may receive a one-off payout of up to $500. 

Applications will open from 3 June to 2 July, with more details to come from the Ministry of Social and Family Development.

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