Additional $5.1b of support to help firms, workers and households cope amid stricter Covid-19 measures

SINGAPORE – An additional $5.1 billion will be set aside to save jobs and support businesses and families as Singapore implements heightened safe-distancing measures to stem the spread of the coronavirus.

Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat announced an unprecedented third round of support measures in Parliament on Monday (April 6) as the Covid-19 pandemic prompted the Government to announce a circuit breaker last Friday that will require, among others, all workplace premises to close for a month from Tuesday unless they are providing essential services.

Mr Heng said the Government will subsidise 75 per cent of the first $4,600 of gross monthly wages for all of the more than 1.9 million local workers in April.

Most firms cannot operate at all or can only do so at a much reduced level in the coming weeks, he said, stressing that they should still retain and pay their workers.

The enhancement to the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) will help workers keep their jobs, and enable businesses to resume operations quickly when the circuit breaker is lifted, he added.

The last update to the scheme, announced two weeks ago, subsidised 25 per cent of the first $4,600 of wages for all local employees for nine months this year, with higher subsidy levels for firms in sectors that are harder hit by the outbreak – 50 per cent for food services, and 75 per cent for aviation and tourism.

Mr Heng said the first payout will be brought forward from May to April, to help businesses meet pressing cash needs. Firms on Giro and PayNow will get the cash next week, and others will get it by cheque from a week later.

“The aim of this strong support is to directly reduce firms’ wage costs, to help them retain their workers,” he said.

“I expect firms to make use of this JSS support to continue paying your workers and refrain from putting workers on no-pay leave during this period, or worse, retrenching them.”

He also announced that the monthly Foreign Worker Levy that firms have to pay will also be waived for April, while a levy rebate of $750 will be granted for each work permit or S Pass holder so that companies can preserve their business structure and resume operations quickly once the circuit breaker is lifted.

In addition, the eligibility criteria for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs) will be broadened to include those who also earn a small income from employment, as well as those who live in properties with an annual value of up to $21,000.

And all adult Singaporeans will receive a one-off cash handout of $600, instead of the $300 Care and Support payout that had been announced in the Supplementary Budget on March 26.

This payment will be credited directly into bank accounts by April 14, while higher tiers of Care and Support payouts for those with lower incomes and the additional $300 payment for parents with at least one Singaporean child under 20 will be brought forward to June, instead of August.

Mr Heng said these and other forms of support come as the Government is acutely aware that the circuit breaker – which will close all schools and most workplaces – will be painful, even as it is essential to curb transmission of the coronavirus.

“It will disrupt businesses and impact workers severely, (and) many will be anxious about their jobs and families,” he said.

But these hard decisions and difficult adjustments have to be made to protect lives, as the effects of an escalation in the outbreak would be a worse impact on lives and livelihoods, he said.

“We must take short-term pains, to avoid even sharper pain later,” he said. “Let us all bear these immediate pains with fortitude, and stay strong.”

The Ministry of Law will also introduce a new Bill on Tuesday to compel property owners to pass on the Government’s 100 per cent property tax rebate to their tenants in full. For most properties, this works out to slightly more than one month of rent.

The Government will also further enhance financing support for enterprises, and increase its risk share of loans made under the Temporary Bridging Loan Programme from 80 to 90 per cent.

In total, the additional support measures will cost $5.1 billion, said Mr Heng, which necessitates a further draw on past reserves beyond the $17 billion sought for in last month’s Supplementary Budget.

Mr Heng said he has sought and obtained President Halimah Yacob’s in-principle support to draw on an additional $4 billion from the nation’s savings, while the remaining $1.1 billion will be funded from “the fiscal space of this term of Government”.

The latest injection means Singapore is allocating some $60 billion to fight Covid-19 to date – of which $6.4 billion was set aside in the Feb 18 Unity Budget, and a further $48.4 billion in the March 26 Resilience Budget.

Parliament will debate the additional spending on Monday and Tuesday.

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