4th Budget sets aside $33b more to help workers, businesses

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat yesterday announced a $33 billion supplementary Budget aimed primarily at helping workers and businesses pull through the Covid-19 pandemic and the bleak economic outlook ahead.

Called the Fortitude Budget, Singapore’s fourth Budget in less than four months sets aside $2.9 billion to extend job protection and co-pay salaries to help firms retain workers. It also provides for the $3.8 billion that went towards helping Singaporeans tide over the extension of the circuit breaker measures.

Together with the earlier Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets, the Government is dedicating close to $100 billion – or nearly 20 per cent of gross domestic product – to support Singaporeans in this battle against Covid-19, said Mr Heng, who called it “a landmark package, and a necessary response to an unprecedented crisis”.

Singapore’s economy has been deeply impacted by the global shocks caused by Covid-19, said Mr Heng, who is also Finance Minister, as he introduced the Budget in Parliament.

He noted that the resident unemployment rate rose to 3.3 per cent in March, the highest in over a decade. The economy is now expected to shrink between 4 per cent and 7 per cent this year, potentially Singapore’s worst recession since independence.

Still, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Republic is in a strong position to overcome this crisis and emerge stronger due to the Pioneer Generation’s sacrifices and stewardship, and the fiscal prudence and discipline of successive governments.

“Saving and creating jobs will be our priority,” wrote PM Lee on Facebook yesterday, while stressing that no one will be left behind.

“We will help businesses adapt and transform, create new jobs and provide more training opportunities to workers.”

Mr Heng also underscored the focus on jobs. Payments under the Jobs Support Scheme will be extended by one month to provide more relief to firms as they reopen after the circuit breaker period.

In total, the Government will disburse $23.5 billion to support firms’ wage costs for 10 months, said Mr Heng.

Businesses such as retail outlets, gyms and cinemas that cannot reopen immediately after the circuit breaker period ends on June 1 will continue receiving 75 per cent wage support until August or when they can resume operations, whichever is earlier.

There will also be help for businesses in the construction and offshore and marine sectors which cannot resume operations on-site for now. They will see the foreign worker levy waiver and rebate extended for up to two months.

Business costs will be cut further as the planned increase in Central Provident Fund contribution rates for senior workers will be deferred by one year to January 2022.

As a landlord, the Government will lead by example by providing two more months of rental waivers for commercial tenants and hawkers, and one more month of rental waivers for industrial, office and agricultural tenants.

A Bill will be introduced next week mandating that landlords grant a rental waiver to their tenants who are small and medium-sized enterprises and have suffered a significant revenue drop.

Households with at least one Singapore citizen will also get a one-off $100 Solidarity Utilities Credit to offset their utility bills, on top of the U-Save Special Payment that was previously announced.

Mr Heng also launched an SG United Jobs and Skills Package to create close to 100,000 opportunities in three areas – 40,000 jobs, 25,000 traineeships and 30,000 paid skills training places.

This Budget will require a further $31 billion to be drawn from past reserves, which President Halimah Yacob has given in-principle support for. In all, the Government is looking at drawing up to $52 billion from the reserves this financial year, said Mr Heng.

“While we will try to preserve jobs in the midst of this crisis, we cannot protect every job,” he said. “However, you have my assurance that the Government will protect every worker.”

“Our promise to workers is this: As long as you are willing to pick up new skills and adapt, to access available opportunities to work or learn, the Government will provide our strongest support to help you.”

Parliament will debate the Budget when it next sits on June 4.

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