33% OF STUDENTS GO TO SCHOOL WITHOUT POCKET MONEY TO BUY LUNCH

Record No. of needy students helped

I refer to the article ”ST School Pocket Money Fund helps record number of needy students” (Straits Times, Oct 10).

It states that ”Pocket money is given to students whose families meet the eligibility criteria of not more than $560 in monthly gross household per capita income.”

Why not only for Singaporeans?

According to the SPMF’s web site – “To qualify as a beneficiary receiving pocket money, the child/youth must be:

A Singapore citizen or permanent resident”.

I understand that almost all other financial assistance schemes are for Singaporeans only. So, why are PRs eligible? (“Fee hike for international students and PRs attending local schools“, Straits Times, Oct 1).

If the assistance is confined to Singaporeans – perhaps the criteria may be less restrictive, such that more Singaporeans may qualify.

Most restrictive criteria amongst all schemes?

As to “Pocket money is given to students whose families meet the eligibility criteria of not more than $560 in monthly gross household per capita income” – I understand that last year’s criteria was “(the child must be) from a family whose per capita net monthly household income is not more than $450″, compared to the $560 gross income now.

If this is the case – typically the net income after deducting say 20 per cent employee CPF contribution may be $448 ($560 gross income less 20 per cent CPF).

SPMF’s criteria may be the most restrictive, of probably all the financial assistance schemes?

For example, ComCare’s criteria is “Families with a monthly household income of $1,900 and below, or a per capita income of $650 can also qualify for assistance if they meet all other criteria”.

So, why is SPMF’s criteria ($560) – $90 less than ComCare’s $650 per capita income?

Only help for 2 years?

As to “STSPMF is committed to helping children and youth who meet the eligibility criteria by providing them with school pocket money for 2 years” – in the previous year it said “providing them with school pocket money for at least two years. In exceptional cases requiring additional help, SPMF will extend the financial assistance to up to four years”

- Why is it that the term of assistance is only for 2 years – is it still up to 4 years in exceptional cases now?

From my  experience doing volunteer work in financial counselling over the last decade or so – I have come across many cases of financial stress when SPMF assistance is terminated after 2 or 4 years.

Since a child generally goes through about 13 years of education – why do we have this “2 years” restriction?

Previously, some criteria don’t make sense?

In fact, the criteria previously was arguably even more strange – “Secondly, post-secondary students who wish to receive aid in the past needed to have either tapped on the fund previously or have a sibling who is drawing on the fund. In future, all who meet the income criteria can qualify. This change will benefit new applicants and those from single-child families”.

Why was there a need for either to “have a sibling who is drawing on the fund” or “to have either tapped on the fund previously”?

Were those who did not “”have a sibling drawing on the fund”, or “tapped on the fund previously”, less deserving – until only recently with the changes announced?

Number needing assistance increase more than 3 times?

Notwithstanding the increase in financial assistance (probably to cover inflation) and the widening of the scope of cover – don’t you find it rather alarming that for a developed country like Singapore – the number of students helped increased from 3,375 in 2001 to almost 14,000 now?

In this connection, Professor Tommy Koh said that “About a third of our students go to school with no pocket money to buy lunch” (“Three wishes for the New Year”, Straits Times, Jan 3).

The assistance disbursed increased from $0.9 million in 2001 to the $7 million  for this year, as reported in the subject news report.

How much reserves?

Its accumulated fund is $17.9 million.

SG50 give $300,000 only?

As to “We were fortunate to receive $300,000 from the Government through its Care and Share programme launched to celebrate Singapore’s 50th anniversary” - don’t you think that the Government should contribute more?

Reciprocate trust with more transparency?

Since the people have given their trust and mandate – shouldn’t we reciprocate by spending more to help Singaporeans.

Leong Sze Hian

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