Pay criterion for new child subsidies clarified

SINGAPORE - The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has clarified how parents should apply for the new government childcare subsidies, after some reported that they were confused about how to calculate their gross monthly household income.

The Straits Times spoke to three pre-school operators, who said that between them, at least 15 parents thought this income referred to only their basic monthly salaries. But a spokesman for the agency said gross monthly household income includes allowances, commissions and bonuses.

The new child and infant-care subsidy framework took effect on April 1. Under the scheme, parents will continue to enjoy a basic subsidy at the current rates of up to $600 and up to $300 for infant care and childcare respectively.

On top of that, those with gross monthly incomes of $7,500 and below will also get additional subsidies of between $100 and $440 for childcare, and between $200 and $540 for infant care.

These are dependent on household income level. For example, a couple with one child in a full- day childcare programme, and a monthly household income of between $4,501 and $7,500, can receive an additional subsidy of $100. Those with a monthly household income of $4,001 to $4,500 can get an additional sum of $220.

The ECDA spokesman said that parents can use the online subsidy calculator which can be found on the Child Care Link portal. This will estimate the amount of subsidy they will be eligible for with bonuses and allowances included in the calculation.

For applicants who are salaried employees, their income will be based on the average monthly pay received over the last available 12-month period, including bonuses and allowances.

For the self-employed, it will be based on monthly income derived from the last available net trade income assessed by the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore within the last two assessment years.

Engineer Martin Lee, 34, pointed out ECDA's brochure and online page of frequently asked questions did not state that payments like bonuses and commissions would be included - only that monthly household income is based on gross combined pay of parents.

Mr Lee, who has a two-year- old son in Eager Beaver Schoolhouse, initially thought he would qualify for an additional subsidy of $100. "You can't expect parents to have the time to click on all of the links on the website. It should be in the brochure that parents are most likely to read."

Mrs Geraldine Ong, 33, who also sends her two children to Eager Beaver Schoolhouse, said it was "disappointing" to find out that her family is not eligible for the additional subsidy due to bonuses and allowances. "We get a transport allowance because we have to travel a lot for work, but yet we are being penalised," said Mrs Ong, an operations coordinator.

The ECDA spokesman said the agency will consider appeals on a case-by-case basis.

Ameba Schoolhouse centre director Xinhui Liaw-Tan said several parents whose monthly household incomes exceed $7,500 have sent in appeals to the ECDA, and all except one have been granted the additional subsidy.

The new subsidy framework is part of the Government's efforts to improve accessibility, quality and affordability of early childhood education. Overall, two- thirds of households - about 120,000 families with young children - will qualify, costing the Government $105 million a year.

Ms Denise Phua, deputy chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Social and Family Development, said that while the ECDA's website has a lot of useful details, "it appears the critical information of the definition of gross income is not easily found".

"It is good to also ensure that those who are not Internet-savvy have access to such critical information through other means," she added.

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