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The Straits Times (29 Sep 2023) : $1.1b extra support: Up to $200 cash for 2.5m, $200 CDC vouchers

29 Sep 2023

Jean Iau

Some 2.5 million adult Singaporeans will receive an additional cash payout of up to $200 in December, and every Singaporean household will receive an extra $200 in Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers in 2024 to help with the rising cost of living.

These support measures, among others, are part of a $1.1 billion Cost-of-Living Support Package to provide relief for all Singaporean households, with more support for lower- to middle-income families. They build on the measures announced at Budget 2023.

The measures include an $800 million enhancement to the Assurance Package (AP) and the AP will now be more than $10 billion.

Announcing the support package on Thursday, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong acknowledged that many Singaporeans are anxious about the overall economic outlook, price increases and the impact on their cost of living.

"The Government is committed to supporting Singaporeans through these uncertain times," said Mr Wong, adding that it will not be dipping into the past reserves for the package.

Mr Wong noted that the measures will cushion the impact of higher utility bills arising from the increases in the price of water, and also the upcoming increase in carbon tax.

The additional payment of up to $200 cash for 2.5 million eligible adult Singaporeans will be disbursed in December 2023, together with the existing AP cash component.

In total, eligible adult Singaporeans will receive up to $800 cash in December 2023. This will provide more support to lower- and middle-income adult Singaporeans.

Singaporeans aged 21 and above in 2024 who own no more than one property, and have an assessable income of $34,000 or less for the Year of Assessment 2022, will receive an additional $200, on top of the $600 under the earlier announced AP cash payment.

Those in this group who have an assessable income of more than $34,000 and up to $100,000 will receive an additional $150 on top of the $350 payout from the existing AP.

Every Singaporean household will get an additional $200 in CDC vouchers in 2024, bringing the total amount of CDC vouchers for each Singaporean household to $500 in 2024.

The $200 worth of additional CDC vouchers will be spilt in half, with $100 of these vouchers allocated for spending at participating heartland merchants and hawkers, and $100 for spending at participating supermarkets.

Some 950,000 Singaporean HDB households will receive an additional one-off 0.5-month service and conservancy charges (S&CC) rebate in January 2024, together with the regular S&CC rebates.

This will, on average, fully offset the S&CC increase in the first year of increases for one- to four-room Housing Board flats and about 85 per cent for larger HDB flats, said the Ministry of Finance (MOF).

The 950,000 Singaporean HDB households will also receive an additional $20 per quarter in U-Save rebates from January 2024 to December 2025, or a total of $80 a year for two years.

These rebates will be disbursed together with the regular U-Save rebates, and will cushion the impact of the carbon tax and water price increases in 2024 and 2025.

Over these two years, the additional U-Save rebates will, on average, fully offset the increase in utility bills for one- to two-room HDB flats. For three- to four-room HDB flats, they will offset about 80 per cent of the increase in utility bills, and for larger flats, about 65 per cent.

On average, this translates to 3- to 4- room HDB flats paying about $2 more per month, and 5-room and larger HDB flats paying about $4 more per month.

There will be additional subsidies of about $300 million in 2024 to cover the deferred fare adjustment quantum of 15.6 per cent that will be carried over to future fare review exercises, as announced by the Public Transport Council on Sept 18.

The additional subsidies will help to moderate the increase in fares and pay for the higher costs of providing public transport services due to the continued increase in energy prices in 2022, core inflation and strong wage growth, said the MOF.

Resident households with a monthly household income per person of not more than $1,600 will each receive public transport vouchers worth $50.

The vouchers, which will be disbursed from end-December 2023, can be used to top up fare cards or buy monthly travel or concession passes.

Mr Wong said on Thursday that while the goods and services tax increase was already planned for, there were certain things that could not have been anticipated, such as some of the recent price increases, and "also the more uncertain economic outlook, possible disruptions to energy and food supplies... and the uncertainties in the global environment".

He said the Government has been monitoring income growth very closely, and there is a likelihood that real income growth will moderate in 2023, because employers are more cautious about salary increments.

"These are the considerations that motivate us to consider whether or not there ought to be more help for Singaporeans, particularly households and families (in) the lower- and middle-income segments," he added.

Mr Wong was also asked about the need to raise prices for water now, and the GST, which will increase to 9 per cent next year.

He explained that there are measures in place so the majority of Singaporeans will not feel the impact of the GST rise for a few years.

"We don't want to wait until we are at the very brink (of having) not enough money and then start raising taxes. We want to put in place all the measures that are necessary to ensure sound public finances, not just for one, two years, but for the medium- and longer-term," he said.

On water, he noted that it is an essential, strategic resource to Singapore.

Mr Wong said PUB does price reviews from time to time. When the pricing is insufficient to cover the full cost of water, he said that it is right for the national water agency to explain the necessary increases and "not just kick the can down the road".

He assured Singaporeans that the Government will continue to be there for them and support them every step of the way.

"As long as we continue to be responsible for one another and keep a lookout for each other, we can overcome the challenges ahead, and move forward together."