The situation is bad, you guys.
President Halimah Yacob confirmed as much, through House Speaker Tan Chuan-Jin, in the lead-up to the Resilience Budget presented in Parliament today.
With a global economy hit by COVID-19, this Supplementary Budget is meant to complement the Unity Budget announced last month.
“Our current crisis is unparalleled in modern history,” she wrote, providing her in-principle support for drawing on past reserves.
Noting that past reserves had been put aside for “rainy days”, President Halimah revealed that the “situation looks like a thunderstorm, not just a drizzle.”
COVID-19 is a test of our social and psychological resilience.
Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat then echoed these grave sentiments in his speech to Parliament, declaring that COVID-19 is “a battle of many fronts: medical, economic and social”.
He said Singapore would be deeply impacted by global shocks, and that the local economy would contract severely, further downgrading Singapore’s GDP growth forecast for 2020 (between -4% and -1%).
Underscoring his point, he declared: “We are facing an unprecedented crisis. In economic terms, this will likely be the worst economic contraction since independence.”
But DPM Heng continued: “COVID-19 is a test of our social and psychological resilience. We must not surrender to this fear or panic.
“Now, more than ever, we need Singaporeans to be strong and ride through these challenges together. COVID-19 is a defining challenge for us. It is a public health crisis, economic shock and a social test. It will challenge our resilience as individuals and as a society.
“Collective acts of kindness and courage are what make a people extraordinary. How we manage this and whether we emerge stronger from this will define us as a people and a nation.”
Hence the name Resilience Budget, a “landmark package” and “necessary response” worth over $48 billion dollars – nearly 11% of GDP if you add the first tranche of $6.4 billion – to tide Singapore through this COVID-19 crisis.
6 THINGS WE LIKED
1. 3X the cash for Singaporeans
The Care & Support Package was given a huge shot in the arm. That means we’ll get much more help.
- All Singaporeans aged 21 and above will now get $300-900.
- The payout for each parent with at least 1 Singaporean child aged 20 and below has also been tripled to S$300.
- Grocery vouchers for Singaporeans aged 21 and above living in 1- or 2-room HDB flats will also now get S$300 in 2020 and $100 in 2021.
2. Graduating soon? Check out SGUnited Traineeships
Young, first-time jobseekers might be wondering how they’re gonna get hired in tough times like these.
Why not get some work experience first?
The Government is looking to support 8,000 traineeships this year, across both large and small enterprises. This includes jobs in science and tech, so take note if that’s your current major.
This really helps if you’re fresh out of university, polytechnic or ITE, as this can be an avenue where you can develop skills and boost your employability after all this blows over.
3. Owe the Government money? 1-year freeze on loans, fees, charges
Students, if you have taken a Government loan, your repayment and interest charges will be suspended for one year from June 1, 2020 to May 31, 2021.
This is huge for graduates worried about having to pay off their student loans and finding a job in this economic climate.
DPM Heng added that all all government fees and charges would also be frozen for a year, from April 1, 2020 to March 31, 2021.
4. Self-employed? Here’s a relief
Under the Self-Employed Persons Income Relief Scheme, eligible Singaporeans can receive S$1,000 a month for 9 months. That’s great news for folks like freelancers.
Those self-employed will also get 3 months of breathing room (April-June) due to automatic deferment of income tax payments.
Now you can use that money to fund more urgent things. If you need more help with cost relief, you can also approach IRAS for help.
5. Struggling families get a grant
As much as the Government protects its citizens, some of us, or our loved ones, will lose employment due to COVID-19.
Those affected can apply for a grant of $800 a month for 3 months. This goes some way to helping low-income families through this difficult season, as their breadwinners look for new jobs or retrain.
DPM Heng shared that the COVID-19 Support Grant would be available at the Social Service Offices (SSOs) from May to September 2020. A temporary relief fund will be set up in April, providing immediate financial assistance.
Low-income individuals and families can also seek ComCare assistance at SSOs. Given the crisis, the Government has said it will be more flexible in considering applications.
6. Wedding cancelled? There may be hope
Planned a big event only for it to be cancelled?
DPM Heng mentioned that the Government is studying how to “provide relief from legal obligations that have arisen due to the COVID-19 situation. For example, people who have paid deposits for big gatherings that now cannot go ahead.”
That could be interpreted in a number of ways, but one thing that comes to my mind is “weddings”.
He then confirmed that the “The Law Minister will present the measures next week.”
So hang tight!
UPDATE: On 1st April, the Government announced that it would introduce a new bill in Parliament in the following week which would allow affected individuals and companies to seek relief.
It seems like these measures are aimed at keeping most of us afloat, and at least get us through to December.
Knowing that this is a boost to get us looking up and working together, let’s do just that – just as the Government has modelled for us.
I also really liked DPM Heng’s closing remarks: “Let us not face this with fear or despair.”
His encouragement was to keep our eyes on the future, even in the face of hardship and adversity.
And with how much DPM Heng emphasised that the Government would make sure no Singaporean would fall through the cracks and “be left behind”, our leaders’ response to the crisis reminded me of something God told the Israelites as He led them through an also difficult time.
“…he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” (Deuteronomy 31:8)
So let’s not be afraid and discouraged. We have good leaders on our team.
And if we believe in God, we have the Best Leader. In troubling times, that’s reason for good cheer indeed.