So far, 2020 has been off to a rocky start — wildfires, tensions between countries over human rights and oil… and the raging Covid-19 global pandemic.
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve seen over 300,000 deaths worldwide and more than 4 million infections. Stock markets crashed (but there’s been a gradual recovery of late), businesses have shuttered, and many are doing all we can in order to “flatten the curve”.
As I’m writing this, Singapore is more than halfway through our Extended Circuit Breaker, where everyone observes safe distancing, puts on a mask when heading out, and limits our physical interactions to our immediate household. To control the spread of the virus, dine-in is no longer available, only essential businesses are open, and there are temperature screenings at many locations.
I’m seated on my living room sofa and working from home, just like many others islandwide. My husband, who works in the F&B sector, has been attending WSQ lessons at home as the restaurant he works in is temporarily closed, and those with children are trying to keep up with home-based learning.
Elsewhere, essential workers such as those in the healthcare, transport and cleaning sector, food services, delivery, supermarket and other key frontline positions are working doubly hard to keep the nation running…
This is our new normal — at least until the shadow of Covid-19 disappears.
During these trying times, I’m grateful that there’s been support from the Singapore government to help individuals and businesses alike.
Here’s a timeline of the Budgets introduced so far:
*Note: Key support measures announced in Solidarity Budget 2020 were extended on 21 April 2020, in view of the 4-week extension to the Circuit Breaker measures.
In total, over S$160 billion has been set aside for the Unity, Resilience, and Solidarity Budgets to see Singaporeans through this crisis and to chart the country’s future with confidence. Beyond combating the pandemic, the money will also go towards supporting our people, growing and transforming our economy and businesses, as well as ensuring a secure and sustainable Singapore.
When unveiling the Solidarity Budget a day before Singapore entered the Circuit Breaker mode, Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Heng Swee Keat described the third stimulus package as “an unprecedented budget, for extraordinary times”.
“This is a generational crisis with no precedent. We have brought all our resources and administrative capacity to bear, to mount a national effort for our workers, businesses, and families — to protect both lives and livelihoods,” said DPM Heng, who is also the Finance Minister.
We’ve seen countless reports listing the measures that are in place, whether for businesses, workers or households — but how do they really support an individual holistically?
Each one of us plays various roles in society. When we report for work, we are employees, and can benefit from measures that tide our companies through these challenging times, such as the Jobs Support Scheme. At home, we are members of our household, and can benefit from household support measures under the Care and Support Package, for instance.
Here’s how these Budget 2020 measures come together to support different individuals in Singapore from all walks of life:
Meet our first persona, let’s call her Manda. She is a 32-year-old Singaporean and a working mum who earns about $3.5k a month. Together with her husband, they have a home loan to repay for their 4-room HDB flat and their 2 young children to support.
Although Manda doesn’t directly benefit from these measures, the support her employer gets would help them retain manpower and continue to pay staff salaries, manage overhead costs and stay in business — even if their offices are physically closed during the Circuit Breaker period.
Manda’s company is not too affected by the Covid-19 outbreak as operations can still continue online. For those who work in affected sectors, through the Adapt and Grow programme, there’s support for the employers to redeploy them to an unaffected industry where possible.
Her employer might consider sending her for courses as well, as she has shown great potential as a manager. For every day she spends upskilling, her employer can get up to $10/hour, which can go towards supporting her full salary payments.
As an individual herself, Manda also benefits directly from the SkillsFuture top-up, and can start looking for courses to further her career. There might also be additional opportunities for a career switch or new job after Covid-19, and she wants to be prepared for the upswing in the near future.
|3. Financial support — cash
Summing it up, Manda and her husband, who are both working Singaporeans, will get a total of $1,200 each. Manda’s elderly mother gets the additional $100 cash support, so that eases some of the expenses for her medication that Manda usually pays for.
These payouts, while not significantly substantial, will help to put more direct cash in the hands of individuals. With careful budgeting, these payouts could provide sufficient financial flexibility to tide them through this period.
Luckily, Manda’s job has not been affected so far, but her friends who were laid off had benefited greatly from the Temporary Relief Fund and the Covid-19 Support Grant, which offered cash handouts.
|4. Household & community support
Manda’s household gets to offset part of their utilities bill and with the whole family at home during the Circuit Breaker period, electricity, water and gas use is at an all-time high. No doubt, they’ve switched to an electricity retailer, but every dollar counts, right?
If they’re NTUC union members, they’ll also get additional relief.
While balancing work and taking turns with her husband for home-based learning with the kiddos, Manda’s also cooking 3 meals a day and fretting about how best to keep her little ones occupied so that they don’t go waltzing into her Skype meetings.
She doesn’t need additional things to worry about, such as increased cost of living — and the government has promised to keep things status quo. It’s also delightful news that there’ll be more subsidies for their children, who are preschool age.
Although Manda and her husband are paying for their HDB flat via CPF, knowing that late mortgage payment charges are suspended is also reassuring. Families out there won’t need to struggle to fork out the money just to maintain a roof over their heads, and can focus on what matters most — family — during this difficult period.
Our second persona — let’s call him Tony — is a 25-year-old Singaporean who graduated from university recently. He was supposed to have his convocation ceremony, but due to the current safe distancing measures, the school decided to hold it online instead.
He’s a swinging single who still lives with his parents (they’re both working), but he needs to get a job to pay off his study loan. Plus, he promised to take his parents on a holiday with his first pay cheque.
Tony can enhance his employability, or simply learn a new skill (that might become a side hustle) while searching for full-time employment. Getting a job is currently challenging, especially with hiring freezes, but he wants to be ahead of his coursemates when the fresh grad job market swings back to its glory days!
|2. Financial support — cash
Like all adult Singaporeans, Tony will get the Solidarity Payment of $600. As his assessable income in YA2019 was $0 (he hasn’t started working), he’ll receive another $600 in June. That full $1,200 goes to his savings — as someone who likes to plan ahead, he’ll not squander that needlessly on that pair of jeans he saw online during this period.
|3. As a first-time jobseeker
In the interim, if Tony really needs to find work, there are employment opportunities available in the form of paid traineeships. He can also find work in information and communications technology (ICT), which he studied in school, while taking up temporary positions in the meanwhile.
Should he want to gain international exposure, Tony can also apply for the GRT, which offers both internships and management associate programmes.
Under the SkillsFuture Work-Study Programme, there will be upcoming opportunities for postgraduate courses that he can apply for to get a leg up in his career.
|4. Greater flexibility on fees and loans
Tony’s study loan still weighs on his mind, but he’s got an extra year to find a full-time job before the loan repayments and interest charges kick in. If he finds work soon, good. He can get a headstart on the loan and quickly pay off as much as possible before the interest charges kick in. Go figure!
Our third persona is a self-employed person, Jun, who is a freelance designer in her 40s. Her husband is a private-hire driver, also a self-employed person. They have no children, and stay in a 2-room HDB flat that they are still paying mortgage for.
Prior to the pandemic outbreak, the pair used to earn about $2k a month each. Right now, their combined earnings have dipped to below $1k a month. Her husband, meanwhile, proactively found a job making deliveries for both food and other essential supplies to support the household.
|1. Cash payments
These payouts are helpful for both Jun and her husband, who are trying to make ends meet now that their earnings have decreased by about 75% due to job cancellations and slowdowns due to Covid-19. More notably, the new Workfare Special Payment will go a long way in providing further support to the couple, if they have received the Workfare Income Supplement (WIS) in 2019.
As Jun’s work commitments have been greatly reduced, she can take up courses to hone her design skills during the downtime, while receiving training allowance.
She is in her 40s, so she will also receive an additional $500 from the SkillsFuture Mid-Career Support Package and can benefit from the other support measures should she intend to make a career switch in the near future.
|3. Household & community support
Speaking of household support measures, the government rebates have been extremely helpful for the couple. As their utilities usage is below national average for their 2-room HDB flat, the U-Save rebates are enough to offset a few months’ of bills. The grocery vouchers, which can be used at major supermarkets like NTUC Fairprice, Giant and Sheng Siong, will also come in handy when offsetting their monthly expenses on necessities.
Of course, these 3 personas aren’t an extensive representation of everyone in Singapore. More importantly, the above-mentioned schemes and initiatives are not an exhaustive listing as well. However, their scenarios are illustrative of how different individuals can holistically benefit from the various Budget 2020 measures cited.
These comprehensive and all-rounded measures certainly help ease some worries and lessen the pinch on our wallets and livelihoods during a difficult time such as Covid-19. But what’s more important is for us to keep in mind that we are all in this together, so let’s all do our part and make full use of what’s possible.
For more details on Budget 2020 measures, visit the Singapore Budget website.