SINGAPORE : The government will launch two initiatives to provide more support for people with disabilities, as well as their families.

The aim is to defray the costs of caring for this group of Singaporeans, as well as encourage families to save up for their long—term care needs.

Four—year—old O’Neal Terence has moderate to severe autism.

He has problems communicating and interacting with people.

But thanks to the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC), O’Neal is making good progress.

His mother, Lydia Chua, said: "From knowing nothing, at least now he knows how to be disciplined; he has learnt how to listen, to sit down, he learnt colours, how to address you, call you."

Parents like Lydia can count on a S$300 monthly subsidy for their children enrolled in EIPIC. The programme provides social, educational and therapy services for kids up to six years of age.

Lydia, a single mother, is grateful for this.

She said: "it is very handy to me. I believe for other parents too. Because currently O’Neal...he is attending the class three times a week. So with the subsidy, I may want to switch to full five days a week."

Lower—income families will get more subsidies under a means testing formula.

For example, families in the lowest income tier can benefit up to S$600 per child per month.

There are now 1,200 children enrolled in EIPIC centres. An additional 1,450 are expected to be enrolled in an EIPIC programme in 2010. The Community Development, Youth and Sports Ministry’s total budget for EIPIC is expected to go up by 36 per cent from S$5.2 million in 2009 to S$7.1 million in 2010.

Community Development, Youth and Sports Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said: "EIPIC is a means—tested programme. The VWOs (voluntary welfare organisations) have tried their best to keep the fees affordable, but quite frankly, it is an expensive programme. Anyone involved in this will know the true cost will probably start somewhat in excess of one thousand dollars per child per month.

"Overall, I hope this will allow us to have an EIPIC sector which is viable, which has got high standards and which is affordable."

Separately, there will also be a new CPF scheme, called the Special Needs Savings Scheme (SNSS) to encourage parents to save for the long—term care needs of their disabled children.

Parents can nominate their disabled children to receive monthly disbursements from their CPF savings after the parents have died.

Disabled persons who require help in at least one activity of daily living, such as dressing or feeding themselves and children currently in Special Education Schools will be eligible.

The Centre for Enabled Living — a first—stop centre for people who need care and their caregivers — will administer the scheme.

MCYS is working with the Manpower Ministry and the CPF Board on the details.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "This has got two big advantages. One, the remaining amount in the CPF account will continue to earn interest. Two, because it is a constant stream of income, there is less danger of a lump sum being dissipated or misappropriated, and together with a care plan, I hope all parents of disabled children will make (plans) beforehand.

"I think this will help reduce some of the anxiety all parents with disabled children go through, where they wonder what will happen to their children when they pass away."

The Manpower Ministry will elaborate on the scheme later.

Meanwhile, to further differentiate between the benefits citizens and PRs receive, Singapore citizens will get 10 per cent more in subsides for long—term residential care services and community—based programmes. This differentiation will go up to 20 per cent by 2012. The change will take effect next month.

Current means testing does not differentiate between citizens and PRs. Examples of residential programmes are homes for the disabled and sheltered homes for the elderly. Community—based programmes include those on EIPIC and Home Help Service for the Elderly. — CNA/ms

Hopefully, this translates into no increase in school fees for Vera!