Utilisation Rates of Funds Set Aside to Help Families, Workers and Businesses During COVID-19 Pandemic01 Feb 2021
Parliamentary Question by Ms Foo Mee Har:
To ask the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance (a) how is the $100 billion that is set aside to deal with the COVID-19 crisis spent to support families, workers and businesses; and (b) what is the projected unused amounts if any.
Parliamentary Reply by Deputy Prime Minister, and Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat:
Our spending to combat the COVID-19 crisis went towards three major areas to protect lives and livelihoods. First, we dedicated $13.8 billion to support public health efforts. Second, we committed $73.5 billion to protect livelihoods, through support for workers and businesses. Third, $10.0 billion went towards social and household support.
Our first priority has been to protect lives. $13.8 billion was committed towards public health. We expanded testing and contact tracing capabilities to contain the virus, building up the capacity to carry out over 50,000 tests per day. We secured health supplies to ensure that frontline workers are well-equipped and protected. We stood up additional healthcare capacity to ensure everyone can access the necessary treatment. We secured early access to vaccines – allowing us to be the first Asian country to receive and roll out the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
These efforts have helped Singapore to avoid the worst of COVID-19 so far. While we encountered serious challenges, we have kept our death rate low and brought community transmission to a manageable level. This was possible because of the dedication of our frontline workers, and unity and cooperation of our people in fighting COVID-19.
Second, we devoted $73.5 billion to protect livelihoods, through support for workers and businesses. At the height of the crisis, we subsidised up to 75% of wages for all resident workers through the Jobs Support Scheme, to which we devoted $26.9 billion. We also provided other cost and credit support to enable businesses to preserve jobs and retain workers. For example, we helped businesses manage costs through tax and rental reliefs, and access credit through the Temporary Bridging Loan Programme and enhanced Enterprise Financing Scheme. We also provided additional support for the sectors most adversely affected by the crisis, such as the aviation and tourism sectors. This included the SingapoRediscovers vouchers to catalyse domestic tourism in a safe manner.
Beyond emergency relief, we are creating new job, traineeship and skills upgrading opportunities through the SG United Jobs and Skills programme and Jobs Growth Incentive. At the Fortitude Budget, I said that we planned to create 100,000 opportunities. We have in fact exceeded this target since August last year. Our focus now is to match jobseekers to the available opportunities. As at end-December 2020, the SG United Jobs and Skills programme has achieved about 75,000 placements. The Jobs Growth Incentive also encouraged firms to bring forward their hiring plans and accelerate the hiring of locals. We are also helping businesses transform and adapt to a post-COVID world, so that we continue to have viable jobs. For example, we enhanced the Enterprise Development Grant and the Productivity Solutions Grant, which provide up to 80% funding support for businesses to digitalise and upgrade productivity. We are starting to see some signs of stabilisation in the labour market. The Government will continue to monitor this closely and refine our policies.
Finally, we devoted $10.0 billion to social and household support. We rolled out the Care and Support Package and Solidarity Payment, as well as the Workfare Special Payment to provide more help to lower-income workers. The Government also gave funding support to charities and self-help groups, and set up the Temporary Relief Fund and COVID-19 Support Grant to help those requiring additional assistance. For Self-Employed Persons (or SEPs), we introduced the SEP Income Relief Scheme (or SIRS). To date, the Temporary Relief Fund, COVID-19 Support Grant and SIRS have helped more than half a million individuals.
Beyond the fiscal resources committed, the Government had put in place other measures to support workers and business owners, through the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act. The MAS’s monetary policy stance and measures to ease cashflow and debt obligations for individuals and businesses also formed part of the broader support package.
The Government committed $100 billion in FY20 towards these measures, but how much is used depends on the take-up of the schemes we put in place. In some areas, such as the SG United Jobs and Skills programme, take-up has been stronger than expected, whereas less support was needed in other areas where market conditions turned out to be better than earlier expected. Overall, we expect that we will not fully utilise the $100 billion committed in FY2020. But the fight against COVID-19 is not yet over. The pandemic rages on in other parts of the world. More infectious variants of the virus threaten to undo our good work. We will need to continue dedicating resources towards the fight against COVID-19 in FY2021. I will present the revised FY2020 estimates and lay out the Government’s detailed plans for FY2021 at Budget 2021.