COVID-19: 'Very small number' taking advantage of Temporary Relief Fund

A post by an individual who allegedly claimed that it was easy to "cheat" to get the Temporary Relief Fund. (SCREENSHOT: desmondtslee/Facebook)

SINGAPORE — A “very small number” of over 100,000 Singaporeans who have applied for the Temporary Relief Fund (TRF) since applications opened on 1 April may be taking advantage of the scheme.

Screenshots purportedly claiming that applying for the one-off $500 cash disbursement under the TRF is a very “simple” way “to cheat” the system supports this suggestion, said Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee on Tuesday (7 April) in a Facebook post.

Lee, who said he received such “reports of abuse” from “many people”, added that he has forwarded them to Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam.

“Along the way, we’re adjusting to make the Temporary Relief Fund more flexible and responsive,” said Lee, who is also Second Minister for National Development.

These include “accommodating a wide variety of supporting documents”, such as a letter, an email, a screenshot from an app, a WhatsApp message, an appointment booklet, handwritten notes, and payment slips.

“And for those with no documents, they can make a legal declaration on the form and we will accept the application,” he added.

More than 27,000 such applications for the Temporary Relief Fund were submitted online with the launch of the virtual system on Monday, said Lee separately in Parliament on Tuesday.

“Yet, many people have sent me screenshots such as this, which suggest that a very small number of people are taking advantage of the schemes, or encouraging others who do not need help to try to ‘cheat’ the system,” said Lee, referring to a screenshot of an online exchange on popular web forum HardwareZone.

“I can’t believe this! No document (sic) also can get the $500!! So simple to cheat,” said the user, who posted a picture of a bank transaction from People’s Association.

Lee said, “No, you are not cheating just the government. You are doing this at the expense of many Singaporeans who are in genuine crisis, and need this help. Those who’ve written to me about such abuse are rightly indignant. And my colleagues and I are also disheartened.”

His Facebook post drew more than 500 comments and was shared over 2,000 times some 10 hours after it was posted.

He stressed that despite this, their priority remains to disburse the TRF and other COVID-19 related schemes, including improving the way to provide assistance for affected people and vulnerable communities.

“Meanwhile, for those of you who are asking what we are doing about such abuse, we’ve sent these reports of abuse to Minister Shanmugam. He told me his officers might be able to find some time later on, to have a chat with them,” added Lee.

(INFOGRAPHIC: MSF, MOM)

Donations to frontline workers and others

On Thursday, Lee also spoke at length in Parliament about existing and forthcoming support measures to help affected households amid the pandemic.

One includes simplifying ComCare processes for lower-income households who qualify, by allowing them to submit supporting documents even via email.

Longer ComCare support is also provided for new cases – typically around six months, he said.

During the “circuit breaker”, some of the Safe Sound Sleeping Places, a collaboration between the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) and Partners Engaging and Empowering Rough Sleepers (Peers) Network, will operate around the clock to enable homeless persons and rough sleepers to stay in shelter during the circuit breaker, Lee said.

More than $8 million has also been donated to the Courage Fund to support healthcare and frontline workers, and lower-income families affected by COVID-19.

Grants have been disbursed to a frontline worker who contracted the disease while some family members of those who have passed on due to the virus will receive aid by this week, Lee added.

A new fund, called the Invictus Fund, will be set up by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) consisting of private donations, said Lee.

It will channel private donations to social service agencies that deliver critical services to vulnerable groups and will help these agencies to maintain their operations as well as make technology investments to better serve their users, he added.

More details on the fund will be shared by the MSF and the NCSS soon.

Additionally, the NCSS is also working closely with social service agencies to help them with business continuity and technology adoption, so that those providing critical services can continue to do so remotely during this period, he said.

On the National CARE Hotline, set up to offer emotional support, Lee said it will be manned by government psychologists, counsellors, and other trained personnel.

“But we would like to make a call for more support. If you are a registered professional – a psychologist or counsellor, or trained to provide counselling on marital and family issues, please join us,” he stressed.

Some social service agencies have come forward to offer their professional resources, Lee added.

“I am encouraged by many who have gone beyond the call of duty, and looked beyond their own interests and difficulties to help others,” said Lee.

“This is our strength as a society and people. And we will get through this together. This test will be our legacy to the generations after us.”

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