SINGAPORE: A scheme aimed at supporting the self-employed through the COVID-19 pandemic has paid out more than S$1.1 billion to about 190,000 eligible individuals so far, said Manpower Minister Josephine Teo on Friday (Sep 4).
Mrs Teo also said that her ministry, together with the Ministry of Finance, is studying the possibility of extending the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (SIRS).
First announced in March as part of the Government’s third Budget, SIRS provides eligible self-employed people with three cash payouts of S$3,000 each. These payouts are disbursed quarterly in the months of May, July and October.
Enhancements were made to the scheme in April during the fourth Budget to include those who also earn a small income from employment work.
Self-employed people who live in some condominiums and other private properties also became eligible for relief after the property annual value threshold was raised from S$13,000 to S$21,000.
Mrs Teo, who was responding to parliamentary questions about the scheme, said the income eligibility criteria for SIRS covered more than 80 per cent of Singaporeans with taxable income.
The criteria pegged to a property’s annual value covered about nine in 10 owner-occupied residential public and private properties.
Incomes of spouses were also considered as a proxy for family support, the minister said.
So far, more than S$1.1 billion has been disbursed as part of the first two payouts.
“With the third and final tranche, SIRS is expected to cost S$2 billion in total - almost double the original S$1.2 billion set aside,” said Mrs Teo. “This is a significant expansion of an already sizable programme.”
Of the 190,000 individuals who have received the payouts, 100,000 people qualified automatically and the remaining 90,000 were successful applicants.
About two in three applications have been approved, the minister added, noting that the Government has been “exercising flexibility in the qualifying criteria” so as to support more self-employed people.
The remaining one-third who did not have their applications approved may have been earning much higher incomes, reside in high-value properties, or own two or more properties with their spouses.
Mrs Teo said: “As SIRS was intended to support SEPs, persons who were previously unemployed or had regular employment were redirected to the COVID-19 support grant.
“Where there were other areas of need, we have referred unsuccessful applicants to the appropriate agencies for follow-up assistance,” she added.
Referring to a previous ministerial statement made by Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat, Mrs Teo said the Government is “studying appropriate ways to support employees and SEPs who are most vulnerable beyond the existing schemes”.
In response to a question from Workers’ Party Member of Parliament (MP) Dennis Tan, who asked if the Manpower Ministry would study the possibility of extending SIRS given how many self-employed still face income issues, Mrs Teo reiterated: “The short answer is yes, we will study this together with the Ministry of Finance.”
Among those who received payouts under SIRS, a large number are taxi drivers. Some are private-hire car drivers while a “good number” are hawkers, added the minister, in response to a separate question from Tampines GRC MP Cheng Li Hui.
Ms Cheng had wanted to know if the authorities track the sectors that the self-employed are in and the performance of these sectors to determine if further help is needed.
“The performance of these sectors … vary and we will have to take these factors into consideration when we look at what to do next,” replied Mrs Teo.