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Benchmark for Financial Assistance Schemes

Type: Parliamentary Questions, All,

Topic(s): Financial Assistance & Social Support,


        Mr Ang Wei Neng asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) how many households are deprived of financial assistance in the last two years because their per capita household income (PCHI) is more than $650 but less than $800; (b) whether the Ministry will consider reaching out to these households; and (c) whether the Ministry will work with other Government agencies to raise their respective PCHI benchmarks in tandem with what the Ministry has done.

         Ms Mariam Jaafar asked whether the Ministry will consider proactively reaching out to families who are denied financial assistance in the past year and whose per capita income is between $650 and $800 to assess if they can now receive assistance.

         Ms Cheryl Chan Wei Ling asked the Minister for Social and Family Development with the rise in inflation (a) whether there has been an increase in the number of financial assistance requests received from 2020 to 2023; (b) whether the number of requests that do not qualify for financial assistance are due to the per capita household income (PCHI) criteria; and (c) if not, what are the other reasons for not qualifying for financial assistance.

        Mr Kwek Hian Chuan Henry asked whether the Ministry can revise the monthly ComCare Long Term Assistance or the Public Assistance Scheme payouts, as well as support for other major assistance programmes, to assist vulnerable Singaporeans in the face of rising costs of living.

        Mr Sharael Taha asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) for the past year, how many families have received ComCare support based on the previous criteria of per capita household income (PCHI) benchmark of $650 and below; (b) with the increase in the PCHI benchmark to $800 and below, what is the projected number of families that will be eligible for ComCare support; and (c) whether the Ministry can consider reaching out to the families that have missed the previous criteria but are now eligible for assistance based on the new criteria.

        He also asked (a) what has been the total sum of ComCare support disbursed in 2022 based on the previous per capita household income (PCHI) criteria; and (b) what is the forecasted sum of ComCare support to be disbursed with the new PCHI criteria of $800 and below.


Answer

1.        Mr Ang Wei Neng, Ms Mariam Jafaar, Ms Cheryl Chan, Mr Henry Kwek and Mr Sharael Taha have asked about the recent revision to the ComCare Short-to-Medium-Term Assistance (SMTA) income benchmark, its impact on past and future ComCare applicants, and whether more assistance can be provided. My response will also cover the related Parliamentary Question filed by Mr Sharael Taha for the next sitting.

2.        ComCare SMTA provides temporary assistance to lower-income households that need financial support to meet basic living expenses. Last month, MSF raised the SMTA per capita household income (PCHI) benchmark from $650 and below to $800 and below. The PCHI benchmark is not a criterion that once met would automatically qualify a household for SMTA. Eligibility for SMTA is based on a holistic assessment by Social Service Offices (SSOs), taking into account factors such as household income, savings, and availability of family support.

3.        Households with PCHI above the benchmark may also qualify for SMTA if their basic living expenses exceed their income. This is why we emphasise that the income benchmark for ComCare SMTA is not a hard threshold to qualify for assistance. Such households would therefore not have been deprived of ComCare assistance if they sought help at an SSO. For example, one of our ComCare households was a single mother and child with PCHI above $650. The SSO provided them with around $100 per month in SMTA cash assistance, in addition to support for their medical bills, utility bills, and services & conservancy charges.

4.        Given that the income benchmark is not used to determine SMTA eligibility, we do not use it to project the number of future recipients or assistance amounts.

5.         The number of SMTA applications rose from around 61,000 in 2019 to around 80,000 in 2020 and 82,000 in 2021 at the height of COVID-19, before dropping to around 75,000 in 2022. The number of SMTA applications from January to June this year is slightly lower than that during the same period last year. The most common reason for unsuccessful ComCare applications in the past three years is that applicants had sufficient income or financial support for their basic living expenses. Other reasons include clients withdrawing their applications to apply for other assistance schemes, such as the COVID-19 Recovery Grant, and clients not submitting supporting documents for ComCare eligibility assessment despite repeated requests from the SSO.

6.        The revision in PCHI benchmark is the latest in a number of enhancements that MSF has made to ComCare policies and processes in the past year. In August 2022, we increased the quantum of assistance for households on ComCare SMTA and Long-Term Assistance (LTA), to adjust for increases in the cost of living and projected inflation. This complements other Government measures which address cost of living concerns, such as the cost of living special payments under the Assurance Package in 2022 and 2023. We also made it easier to apply for ComCare by introducing an additional channel for online SMTA applications in May last year, besides applying in person at SSOs. We will continue to regularly review the scope and coverage of ComCare schemes.

7.        MSF will also continue to reach out to low-income households, including through our partners, so that those who need assistance are aware of the social support that is available to them. Our partners include members of our SG Cares Community Networks, other government agencies, social service agencies, grassroots organisations and leaders, and volunteers. We also encourage individuals who need support to call the ComCare hotline at 1800-222-0000, or approach the nearest SSO or Family Service Centre for assistance.

8.        On whether the income benchmarks of other Government schemes would be raised in tandem, various social assistance schemes meet different needs and have different target groups. Agencies incorporate data and information from multiple sources when formulating social assistance, including the income benchmarks of other government schemes, to tailor each scheme’s eligibility criteria to meet its intent.

9.        MSF is also leading a whole-of-government effort to ensure that support for ComCare clients is comprehensive, convenient, and coordinated. For instance, ComCare Scheme Bundles enable ComCare clients to automatically qualify or be considered for relevant assistance schemes, such as MOE’s Financial Assistance Scheme (FAS) and MOH’s Community Health Assistance Scheme (CHAS). We are expanding this arrangement progressively to cover more schemes and agencies.

10.       MSF will continually review and improve ComCare, to ensure that social assistance is provided to those who need it.