As the Israeli economic recovery sputters, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz announced on Wednesday night the issuance of one-time assistance checks to every household to help people through the crisis.
The plan, costing 6 billion shekels ($1.75 billion), would deliver NIS 2,000 ($583) to 2,500 ($729) for those with two children, and 3,000 ($875) for families of three or more. Households without children would receive 750 shekels ($218), according to media reports on Wednesday.
Netanyahu explained it as a stimulus payment. “We must get the economy running again. People are sitting at home, they aren’t consuming,” Netanyahu said during a press conference with Katz alongside.
He urged quick action to “get it to all Israeli households” and that “if we start arguing about why, it will take longer — weeks, I hope not months… We’ll never get it done.
“We need to get the wheels moving and make sure nobody falls between the cracks,” he said.
What the prime minister seemed to be getting, however, was quick criticism. The Finance Ministry is said to be against it on the grounds that it would be a giveaway to all Israelis, regardless of income level or whether they were hurt economically by government-ordered restrictions to stem the coronavirus.
Channel 12 reported that Shaul Meridor, head of the Finance Ministry’s budget division, warned during a heated exchange earlier that “this is not a very smart way to distribute money. “We need to be careful not to become Venezuela,” he was quoted saying.
The network said Meridor was referring to the difficulties faced by Venezuela, which has the world’s highest inflation rate and has seen a major contraction of its economy in recent years, in raising money from capital markets due to irresponsible financial policies.
The Blue and White party, appeared to be aligning itself with the ministry in a statement which said: “Any economic support for Israeli citizens is welcome, but it needs to be anchored in a responsible and long-term plan.
“Regarding the grants, Blue and White supports directly transferring money to citizens, but this needs to be done with an emphasis on those whose livelihoods was hurt… we’ll deliberate this later in the government.”
Netanyahu sought to pre-empt a debate on the matter, as he added: “Most Israeli citizens will receive the money within days. I am sure I will receive the support of Benny Gantz and others so that we can make do with a government decision. If we are required to legislate this grant, I expect all factions to support it so we can transfer the money to you, the citizens, quickly.”
In a briefing, Netanyahu addressed the objections of Finance officials, quoting a comment of Hebrew University economist Prof. Naomi Feldman that it was better to give out funds to a few people that don’t need the money than to delay the process or miss getting it to those who do need it by creating bureaucratic obstacles.
The funds would come from social security payments and therefore wouldn’t require formal legislation to be approved.
Earlier in the day, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein repeated his warnings of the inevitable of a general closure if infection rates don’t go down or at least stabilize.
“The numbers aren’t encouraging,” he said at a press briefing. “We will need to weigh all possible options to at least stop the rate of increase, and this issue will be brought before the next cabinet meeting on Sunday, if not before then.”
“From my first day in the ministry, I did everything so as not to come to a general closure. We are trying every way not to reach a general closure.
“But in an reality in which during every restriction a broad public struggle starts against that restriction, we have to understand once and for all — if the entire bag of additional tools is not at our disposal, in the end we will also reach a closure.”
Also on Wednesday, the Defense Ministry announced a financial aid package of NIS 25,000 for areas under lockdown due to high coronavirus morbidity rates.
As a part of the package, food baskets will be assembled and then distributed by the Home Front Command. The packages will contain staples such as canned vegetables, tomato paste, tuna, dates, rice, pasta, sugar, oil, flour, cookies, jam, tea, coffee, tahina, salt, pepper and more. There is even an option for gluten-free orders.
Updated Wednesday, July 15, 2020 at 4:45 pm updated