Budget 2014: Higher household income gap for ComCare

Budget 2014: Higher household income gap for ComCare

Every time two-year-old Ayden gets a fever or cough, his parents have sleepless nights.

Their anxiety is not only because the boy is their only child, but each visit to the doctor sets them back by up to $50.

Ayden's father Pang Xiao Zhang, 30, earns $1,500 a month as a technician, while his mother Angel Tan, 28, makes $300 as a freelance courier.

Rent and utility bills easily eat up one-fifth of their income.

But a change in policy announced on Thursday by Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing will bring the Pangs relief.

From July, the household income cap for short- and medium- term aid under the national ComCare scheme will be raised from $1,700 to $1,900.

This means 1,800 more families can now apply for the aid. For families with more dependants, the income cap for each person will be lifted from $550 to $650.

These increases will cost the Government an additional $15.4 million a year.

The changes follow Mr Chan's disclosure last year, during his ministry Budget debate, that the Government was reviewing social assistance schemes to ensure the needy do not fall through the cracks because of rigid criteria.

The eligibility criteria was last relaxed two years ago when the income ceiling for short- to medium-term aid was raised to $1,700, from $1,500. Larger families became eligible too, with the ministry introducing a per capita income criterion of up to $550.

The less rigid criteria is one reason social aid payments to the poor crossed the $100 million mark for the first time to reach $102.4 million in the last financial year ending in March 2013.

But Mr Chan stressed that "the measure of success for our Comcare scheme is not the amount of money we hand out. It is how we are able to use the Comcare scheme to allow people to stand on their feet again".

"Help must come as an integrated package that looks into not just the financial assistance, but the root of the problems (that may range from) job to housing and education," he said.

The help given can be manifold. Households could get monthly cash allowances, vouchers for utility, rent and transport as well as subsidised treatment in polyclinics and hospitals.

Mr Chang Kun Heng, 79, hopes to receive help for his main expenses: $250 a month rent for a two-room flat on Henderson Road and $150 for utility bills.

He does odd jobs, which pay $40 a day. His daughter, a telephone operator in her 40s, brings home about $1,500 a month.

He lives with his wife, daughter and 11-year-old grandson, and their total household income of $1,800 makes the family eligible for the ComCare scheme.

"At my age, I want to work, but no one wants to hire me," he said. We live day to day, and so far, so good. We are lucky," he said.

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