Hong Kong’s non-permanent residents on low incomes are appealing to the government to bring forward the distribution of a HK$10,000 handout, with the Covid-19 pandemic leaving many of them jobless.
New immigrants were left out of the payout scheme for permanent residents when it was announced in February, but officials later said they could apply for the same sum in September – weeks after millions of those holding the full residency status actually received the cash.
In a blog post on Sunday, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong said those living in Hong Kong for less than seven years, the threshold for permanent residency, would be able to apply for the HK$10,000 under the Community Care Fund by the end of next month, which starts the vetting process.
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“I’m completely helpless now,” said Lucy Miao Guiying, who has been living off her savings since she lost her job at McDonald’s as a cleaner last month.
The 39-year-old hopes the HK$10,000 will be enough for her and her daughter to survive at least a few months. “I can only wait but of course it would be better if the money could come earlier. And even after we apply we still have to wait for the application to be processed.”
The Society for Community Organisation’s Sze Lai-shan said new immigrants like Miao had been waiting for too long.
“Many of them are now jobless or have had to move in with their relatives or acquaintances since the pandemic hit,” she said.
Hong Kong’s unemployment rate has also shot up since the coronavirus hit the city, rising to a 15-year high of 6.2 per cent. Hong Kong has recorded more than 3,500 coronavirus cases, with 34 related deaths.
Opposition lawmaker Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, of the Labour Party, also criticised the government’s staggered processes for permanent and non-permanent residents, which the government said was necessary to avoid delays in the former receiving the payments.
“Relief measures should be based on need, the way the government handled this can be seen as discrimination,” he said.
“Particularly as many new immigrants are much needier as they are low-income families or single, the government should handout the money faster.”
Cheung added the pandemic had made things harder for many of the city’s residents, with social workers reporting an increase in the number of homeless people and street sleepers.
Yan Fung, 35, another new immigrant, said she hoped for more regular payouts rather than just one-off subsidies. “It’s such a troublesome process to fill out all the forms and provide all this information, and then we have to be vetted,” she said.
Fung has two young children and her husband has been asked during the pandemic to take unpaid leave by his employer, further reducing their family’s income. She said HK$10,000 was barely enough to cover a month of her rent and other expenses.
Additionally, the Community Care Fund will start accepting applications on Monday for a HK$9,000 rent subsidy scheme for two-person households living in non-public housing and not qualifying for the government’s comprehensive social security assistance.
To be eligible, applicants’ monthly income must be no higher than HK$22,000 with their rent capped at HK$11,000.
As of July 30, 6,000 applications were received for the first round of subsidies, which were open to single-person households, the labour and welfare chief said.
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More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong government extends HK$10,000 handout scheme to new arrivals on low incomes
- Hong Kong permanent residents can get HK$10,000 cash handout from July 8, finance minister Paul Chan says