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The big read: With inflation weighing on families, some are ditching the frills while others are cutting back on the essentials

Ms Siti said she applied for financial assistance from an SSO. Responding to questions from TODAY, an MSF spokesperson said the SSO was processing Ms Siti’s application and the assessment should be completed within two to four weeks of submitting the necessary documents.

The spokesperson added that Ms Siti’s children receive financial assistance from the Ministry of Education and that the SSO has connected her with Doctors-On-Wheels, a free clinic program run by the Woodlands Grassroots Organizations and SATA CommHealth.

Like Ms Siti, single mother Wendy Tan, 31, said she is careful about every dollar she spends and tightly controls her family’s modest budget. Ms. Tan lives with her five-year-old daughter in their one-room HDB rental apartment

Ms Tan, who works as a part-time service crew because she has to look after her child, can only afford partial payments for her utility, water, conservation and telephone bills each month, resulting in an accumulation of arrears of approximately S$300 in total.

“I used to be able to buy a week’s worth of food with S$50, but now you can’t do much with that money,” she said. “It caused a lot of stress.”

With the same amount of money for less food on the table, Ms Tan added that she eats less now, so her child doesn’t have to.

MSF spokesperson said Ms Tan’s family had been supported by its short-to-medium term assistance program from December last year to February, and they had not renewed assistance after finding a job. The family receives childcare subsidies for their daughter’s early education, the spokesperson added.

The Short and Medium Term Assistance Program provides temporary financial support to low-income individuals or families who are temporarily unable to work, are looking for work, or earn low income and need assistance.

Last month, the government announced that families and individuals who get approved for financial assistance from ComCare will automatically receive assistance from other relevant programs. This will benefit 30,000 ComCare families over time. And starting this quarter, Singaporeans can apply for the ComCare short-term and medium-term assistance program online through MSF’s SupportGoWhere portal. Previously, they could only do this in person in SSOs.

Social and Family Development Minister Masagos Zulkifli also said in January that eligibility criteria for receiving financial assistance from ComCare would be reviewed later this year.

Currently, to be eligible for the Short and Medium Term Assistance Scheme, applicants must have a household income of S$1,900 and below, or a per capita household income of S$650 and below. Nevertheless, the government has said that PSOs comprehensively assess the needs of individuals and families and show flexibility in providing necessary financial assistance and community support.

As households grapple with the severe strain on their family finances, some food banks and family service centers said they have seen an increase in requests for food and financial assistance since the start of this year. But even as demand increases, a community food bank said it has seen dwindling supplies.

Free Food for All, a non-profit organization that tackles food insecurity and food waste in Singapore, said it received 60% more requests for food aid in February compared to January. It also saw more families requesting food assistance last year, compared to 2020.

“Many of them had indicated that rising food prices and loss of jobs were the main reasons for asking for food aid. We had provided them with ready-to-eat meals to give them respite so they could channel available funds towards other expenses,” a spokesperson said.

Ms Sandy Goh, who has run a community food bank in her Bedok Reservoir neighborhood for a decade, said more residents were asking for food aid, but her food bank’s collection of fresh produce, such as fruits and vegetables as well as canned foods, has more than halved since the start of the year.

“Perhaps the stores have also brought in less food (to sell) as the prices go up, so there’s less waste that we can collect from them. Before that, collecting from a place could distributed to 150 families, now it can only support about 70 families.

“So I need to collect leftover or unsold food from more places so I can stockpile enough to meet the demand,” she said.

Ms Goh said she was also seeing fewer volunteers as many returned to work to make ends meet.