Americans living in Israel would qualify for US government’s coronavirus relief
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Americans living in Israel would qualify for US government’s coronavirus relief

Congressional aides say direct cash payments in stimulus package can go to any US citizen with a tax ID number

Eric Cortellessa covers American politics for The Times of Israel.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat of California, makes a statement ahead of a planned late-night vote on the coronavirus aid package deal at the Capitol in Washington, March 13, 2020. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, a Democrat of California, makes a statement ahead of a planned late-night vote on the coronavirus aid package deal at the Capitol in Washington, March 13, 2020. (AP/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — Americans living abroad would qualify for a direct cash transfer from the US government under proposed legislation to mitigate the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, congressional aides told The Times of Israel.

US Senators and Trump administration officials agreed on the $2 trillion stimulus package early Wednesday morning, in a rush to pass emergency legislation that would provide aid to businesses, workers and a healthcare system slammed by the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak.

The Senate’s emergency relief plan would issue direct payments of $1,200 to most adults and $500 to most children.

The proposal will need to be approved by House lawmakers before it can be signed into law by US President Donald Trump. Earlier this week, House Democrats put forward their own plan that would issue similar payments to Americans battered by the economic shock of coronavirus.

Lawmakers will ultimately need to reconcile the two outlines before a final stimulus package is approved. The primary sticking point is the terms for relief for US airlines; Democrats argue they should be mandated to meet emissions standards.

Two congressional staffers said any American citizen would be eligible for the cash payments under both of those plans, including those living abroad.

“Anyone with a tax ID number can get them,” one aide said.

That could potentially benefit many US citizens living in Israel.

President Donald Trump gestures as he asks a question to Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, during a briefing about the coronavirus in the James Brady Briefing Room, Monday, March 23, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

It’s not clear exactly how many Americans currently live in the Jewish state, but past estimates have indicated there are hundreds of thousands. The US officials did not have the exact figures for Israel, but the data on Americans living abroad is murky in general.

Several organizations provide different calculations: The World Bank says there are roughly two million US citizens who live overseas, the Federal Voting Assistance Program says 5.7 million, and a 2020 State Department report estimates there are roughly 9 million. That’s partly because the data itself is hard to track.

A 2012 USA Today report said that there were roughly 300,000 US citizens living in Israel at the time.

While Americans living outside the United States are eligible for the aid, it’s not clear how that aid would be delivered to them — i.e., whether the checks would be mailed to any address other than the ones listed on their tax forms.

A Congressional staffer said Tuesday that some of the details of the legislation were still being worked out.

The emergency relief package is being finalized on Capitol Hill as COVID-19 continues to spread rapidly in America. The World Health Organization warned Tuesday, as the number of reported American cases surged, that the crisis in the US could exceed the scope of that in Europe, making the US the epicenter of the contagion.

The American economy has been dealt a severe blow by the pandemic.

On Tuesday, US markets saw their biggest contraction since the end of the Great Recession due to massive business disruptions caused by the outbreak.

Morgan Stanley researchers said on Monday that they now expect the economy to shrink by an annualized rate of 30 percent in the second quarter of this year. The unemployment rate is also expected to jump to nearly 13%.

Israel has also been reeling from the virus, which has claimed five Israeli lives and resulted in semi-lockdown measures.

The Finance Ministry estimates that the lockdown could cost the Israeli economy about NIS 90 billion ($25 billion) if it continues for another six weeks, leaving hundreds of thousands of people unemployed.

The number of Israelis without a job has skyrocketed in recent weeks, reaching 19.6 percent on Wednesday, with a total of 657,876 new registrants for unemployment since the start of the month.

Those numbers are expected to grow in the coming days as the government further tightens restrictions on work and movement in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

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