Cabinet Passes Economic Relief Package

YERUSHALAYIM -
Minister of Finance Yisrael Katz holds a press conference behind a plexiglass screen to protect him from coronavirus infection. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The Israeli Cabinet approved a wide-ranging economic relief package to help Israelis through the coronavirus crisis on Monday night.

Amid mounting complaints and protest demonstrations accusing the government of not doing enough, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu‏‏ and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz proposed a number of measures to ease the pain for the jobless, the self-employed and businesses.

Included in the relief package: an extension of eligibility for unemployment benefits through June 2021, monthly “adjustment grants” of NIS 4,000 ($1,163) for workers above the age of 67 who lost their jobs due to the pandemic through the end of 2020, and a bimonthly grant of up to NIS 15,000 ($4,363) for independent businesses suffering coronavirus-related financial losses, also through June 2021.

“We are continuing to work to bring further help, jobs and money to the country’s citizens,” Netanyahu tweeted after the Cabinet voted its approval.

Ministers also approved a 24 billion shekel expansion in the 2020-2021 budget to cover the cost of the package, the Prime Minister’s Office and the Finance Ministry said in a joint statement.

An immediate support stipend has already been paid out to some 300,000 self-employed people and will be deposited in their bank accounts in the coming days, said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office. Only a third of those who qualified for the stipend will get the maximum sum of NIS 7,500 ($2,180) a month. The total cost of the payout was NIS 1.8 billion ($523 million).

Parts of the plan cannot go into effect immediately because they entail changing the existing laws. As such, they require Knesset approval, which will be sought “immediately,” the statement said.

Other elements of the package grant an extension of expenses reimbursement for businesses whose revenues suffered a hit of at least 40%, by increasing the maximum grant to NIS 500,000 ($145,450) per round.

IDF veterans who were discharged in the past five years will be allowed to withdraw up to half of the discharge deposit they receive, and use it for any purpose. Currently, withdrawals can only be made for specific purposes such as education, starting a business, or getting married.

In addition, tax exemptions will be granted for those withdrawing from their trust funds.