800,000 Israeli adults begin to receive government coronavirus handouts

After payments for parents arrived this week, most other adults to receive NIS 750 while those living on pensions and allowances to get double sum

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, listens to then-Foreign Minister Israel Katz during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, October 27, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, listens to then-Foreign Minister Israel Katz during the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, October 27, 2019. (Gali Tibbon/Pool Photo via AP)

Some 800,000 Israeli adults were set to receive government handouts Tuesday and Wednesday as the the National Insurance Institute continued rolling out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coronavirus stimulus program.

The first wave of handouts, which began Sunday, consisted of direct deposit grants for families with children under the age of 18, some 1.2 million Israelis.

On Tuesday, the National Insurance Institute announced the next phase and said payments for adults without kids would arrive in the bank accounts of 400,000 people on Tuesday, and a similar number on Wednesday.

Each will get a one-time payment of NIS 750 ($220), while those eligible for benefits such as pensions and certain allowances will receive NIS 1,500 ($440).

To hand out the grants, the National Insurance Institute website needs to have up-to-date bank account details of the receiver.

When fully rolled out, the program — which excludes high earners — will see more than NIS 6.5 billion ($1.9 billion) disbursed to eligible citizens.

Speaking on Sunday, National Insurance Institute director Meir Spiegler called the rollout of the stimulus plan the largest project ever undertaken by his agency, adding that it had been operating in an emergency capacity since March.

National Insurance Institute’s Director General Meir Spiegler at a conference at the Jerusalem International Convention Center (ICC) on September 3, 2018 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Knesset approved an amended version of the prime minister’s divisive multi-billion-shekel handout plan on July 29, after political backlash forced him to agree to a number of revisions.

Netanyahu announced the plan on July 15, saying it was vital to get the money out quickly in order to get the wheels of the economy moving again.

Under the original plan, all Israelis aged 18 and over were to receive a one-time payment of NIS 750 ($220). Couples with one child were to receive NIS 2,000 ($586), rising to NIS 2,500 ($733) for those with two children, and NIS 3,000 ($880) for those with three or more.

But criticism of the plan’s call to disburse money to all Israelis — regardless of income or whether they were hurt economically by the government-mandated restrictions to contain the virus — prompted Netanyahu to backtrack and announce that high earners would not receive the handouts while people receiving certain government benefits would get more.

A National Insurance Institute building (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Illustrative: a National Insurance Institute building. (photo credit: Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

Senior officials in the treasury, including director Keren Terner Eyal, opposed the plan ahead of its unveiling, likening it to “throwing suitcases of money that we don’t have into the sea,” according to Channel 13.

Last week, following political pressure from the Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities, Finance Minister Israel Katz agreed to increase the stimulus checks for large families. Under the revised plan, families were to receive NIS 500 ($146) for each of their first four kids, with another NIS 300 ($88) from the fifth child onward.

The Finance Ministry also agreed to increase the payouts for newly released IDF soldiers, raising the sum from NIS 750 ($220) to NIS 1,250 ($366) for those discharged in the past year.

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni chairs a Knesset Finance Committee meeting on March 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Increasing numbers of Israelis have reported feeling anxiety and concerns over their ability to pay their bills during the resurgent coronavirus outbreak, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported on July 26,.

According to the CBS, 55 percent of Israelis were concerned over their ability to cover monthly expenses during the economic downturn and more than a fifth had either reduced their food intake during the crisis to save money or lived with someone who had.

During a national lockdown in March-April, the economy came to an almost total standstill. Unemployment soared to 26 percent and over a million Israelis were out of work. Over the past few months restrictions have mostly been lifted, but unemployment remains at over 20% with some 800,000 Israelis jobless, according to the Israeli Employment Service.

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