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COVID-19: Additional $3.8b for Solidarity Budget with extended circuit breaker period

A man in a face mask seen carrying groceries along Orchard Road on 7 April 2020, the first day of Singapore's month-long circuit breaker period. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — The Solidarity Budget will be boosted by a further $3.8 billion with new measures in place following the extension of the circuit period to help businesses and workers cope with its impact amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Among the measures, Singaporeans who are unemployed from 1 May onwards due to COVID-19 can apply for the COVID-19 Support Grant, which provides a cash grant of $800 a month for three months.

Making the announcement on Tuesday (21 April), Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat said the government will extend key support measures in the Solidarity Budget into May.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced minutes before Heng in a televised address that the circuit breaker period, which began on 7 April, will be extended by four weeks to 1 June from 4 May. During this period, most businesses apart from those providing essential services will be closed while stricter safe distancing measures are in place.

Speaking at a virtual media conference by the mult-ministry taskforce on COVID-19, Heng said, “In the months of April and May, this will be a test of our resilience, as individuals and as a society. We cannot be certain when the crisis will end. But what is certain is that we are here for you.” 

Heng unveiled on 6 April the $5.1 billion Solidarity Budget - together with the previously announced Unity and Resilience Budgets, the government’s financial assistance in response to COVID-19 will total more than $63 billion.

In a separate media release, the Ministry of Finance (MOF) announced further details of the additional measures to help businesses and workers. 

For instance, the government will extend the Jobs Support Scheme (JSS) across all sectors for another month into May. In the Solidarity Budget, the JSS was raised to provide 75 per cent wage support on the first $4600 of gross monthly wages for local employees across all sectors for the month of April.

“JSS payouts are intended to offset and protect local employees’ wages. Employers must act responsibly and fairly, taking reference from the tripartite advisory on salary and leave arrangements during the circuit breaker period,” said the MOF, adding that employers who put local employees on mandatory no-pay-leave or retrench them will not be entitled to the JSS payout for those employees.

In addition, the government will extend the JSS payout to cover wages of employees of a company who are also shareholders and directors of the company, or shareholder-directors. 

This support will only apply to companies that were registered on or before 20 April, and for the wages of shareholder-directors with assessable income of $100,000 or less for the 2019 year of assessment. About 50,000 shareholder-directors are expected to benefit from the assistance. 

The May 2020 and subsequent JSS payouts will include support for qualifying shareholder-directors. 

The government will also extend the Foreign Worker Levy (FWL) waiver and FWL rebate by one month, to ease labour costs of firms that employ foreign workers in this period. The assistance will support firms with workers who are unable to work due to the circuit breaker and/or Stay Home Notice (SHN) measures.

Other relief measures will continue to apply. Among them, lower- to middle-income Singaporeans who require urgent help with their basic living expenses can apply for the Temporary Relief Fund which provides a one-off cash grant of $500 in April. 

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