SINGAPORE: A one-off grant of S$3,000 - originally offered to parents of infants born between Oct 1 this year and Sep 30, 2022 - will be extended to parents whose babies were born before October, but who had a certified estimated delivery date on or after Oct 1.
Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah announced this in Parliament on Thursday (Oct 15). She said the authorities had decided to accede to appeals from this specific group of parents, after having received “feedback, appeals and even petitions” to change the start date of Oct 1 to an earlier one, following the introduction of the Baby Support Grant.
The grant aims to provide additional support to help couples “defray child-raising costs during these extraordinary times”, the National Population and Talent Division (NPTD) had said, when it announced the initiative last week.
“I fully understand that parents who were not eligible to receive the Baby Support Grant are disappointed, especially since this has been a challenging year for everybody,” said Ms Indranee, who oversees the NPTD.
“I acknowledge their concerns and I think it would be useful for me to share more about our considerations when designing this scheme.”
Citing a survey conducted by the NPTD and the Social and Family Development Ministry in June, Ms Indranee noted three in 10 Singaporean couples surveyed said they were planning to delay having a child due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic has affected our lives and livelihoods in a major way. Employment and financial stability have therefore become an even bigger consideration for many couples, and made them rethink if they should have a child in the next one to two years,” she said.
The Baby Support Grant was designed to augment the existing Baby Bonus Cash Gift and provide extra support for parents who wish to have a child, so that they would not postpone their parenthood plans, said Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Finance and National Development.
Several start dates were considered when the scheme was being designed, including Jan 1 next year as part of the budget for 2021, she noted.
“However, we felt it was important to get the support out as quickly as we can, to help more Singaporeans with their parenthood aspirations. Announcing the plans next year could mean that parents may delay attempts to have a child,” she said.
“While the Government’s fiscal situation is tight, due to the support given to Singaporeans and businesses throughout the year, we were able to set aside some budget this year, to provide more support to more Singaporean parents starting as soon as we could,” added Ms Indranee.
As such the decision was made to make the grant effective from October, the month it was announced, she said.
The minister said she understood that parents of infants not eligible to receive the grant would be disappointed, given the challenges in caring for newborns this year, especially during the “circuit breaker” period, but added that specific start dates would be required for any new measure.
“Regardless of the effective start date, there will always be some babies who are born before it. The appeals we have received to change the start date of the Baby Support Grant come with a wide range of suggestions for the start date,” she said.
These ranged from Jan 1 to April, when the Circuit Breaker began, to one suggestion that the grant be extended to all children under the age of seven, she said.
"Each group has reasons for the dates proposed, and looking at it from their perspective they are all valid. But we can only choose one date, and whichever date we choose, there will be groups who are not covered," she said.
"We chose October as the commencement date for the reasons mentioned earlier, and seek your understanding why we are maintaining this date."
Ms Indranee pointed to the substantial Government support already available for parents of children born before Oct 1 this year, with parents able to receive cash and “cash-like support” ranging between S$18,000 for a first child and S$32,000 for fifth and subsequent children, even without the Baby Support Grant.
Subsidies for infant and childcare have also been enhanced, with families now able to receive up to S$1,310 in infant care subsidies or up to S$767 in childcare subsidies each month, she noted.
“We do understand the difficulties that families, especially those with babies and young children, face during this period, and have implemented measures like those I had described earlier this year,” said Ms Indranee.
“We will continue to support families during these extraordinary times, and I seek Members’ and fellow Singaporeans’ understanding about the start date for the Baby Support Grant, which is one such additional measure,” she said.
The Government would “continue to review and enhance the strong suite of measures already in place to help Singaporeans form and grow families”, she added.
Ms Indranee was responding to questions that had been raised by several MPs from both sides of the House, including Ms He Ting Ru from the Workers’ Party (WP).
Ms He, an MP for Sengkang GRC, had also said there needs to be a more holistic view of addressing the challenges of child-rearing beyond just the financial aspects, such as the role played by fathers.
She pointed to the WP’s call for shared parental leave of 24 weeks, with at least 12 weeks given to the mother.
“Our current policy of a new father being able to share only up to four weeks from the mother’s leave only encourages the sense that it is primarily a mother’s job to care for her newborn,” she said.
Ms He also asked if the Baby Support Grant could be extended to single parents, noting they often have less access to alternative resources and support structures.
Responding to Ms He, Ms Indranee noted that the Citizens' Panel on Work-Life Harmony, formed last year, had made a number of recommendations on issues such as flexible working arrangements.
On the issue of whether the Baby Support Grant could also be given to single parents, the minister said single parents are not eligible for the grant.
“The baby support grant is a one-off grant to help reassure couples and minimise delays in their marriage and parenthood plans,” she said.
“The BSG is an add-on to the Baby Bonus cash gift, which in itself was designed to encourage marriage and parenthood. So it’s not quite consistent to extend it to singles in this context.”
However, other Government benefits supporting the “growth and development of children” are given to all Singaporean children regardless of the marital status of their parents, she said.
These include benefits such as Government-paid maternity leave and the Child Development Account, with a First Step Grant of S$3,000 and matched Government contributions, which were extended to single parents in 2016 and 2017, Ms Indranee noted.
Separately, Leader of the Opposition Pritam Singh had asked if the Baby Support Grant could be given to those in lower income groups, including those who received COVID-19 related financial support such as the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS).
Ms Indranee said that lower-income parents with babies born on or after Oct 1 were already eligible for the grant, while those with babies born before that date can benefit from other existing schemes.
“The reassurance that we can give is that if you are lower income and you had their child before Oct 1 and you have financial difficulties, we will help you. It doesn't necessarily have to be in the form of the Baby Support Grant, but we will still help you,” she said.