Finance minister opposes reported plan for High Holiday handouts

Finance minister opposes reported plan for High Holiday handouts

Israel Katz says he’s not aware of push by Netanyahu for another round of cash grants and that in any case, ‘I don’t think we should do that’

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Finance Minister Israel Katz said Tuesday he opposes further cash handouts to the public, amid reports Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to write further stimulus checks meant to offset pandemic-related losses ahead of the High Holiday season next month.

“I don’t think we should do that… I’m not aware of anything like that and I don’t think it will happen,” Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, told 90FM Radio.

He said there were already “large grants” set to be disbursed in September as part of existing financial assistance programs.

The government this week began distributing grants to most Israelis, which Netanyahu has championed as a way to boost the economy amid the high unemployment and negative growth accompanying the coronavirus pandemic.

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 adult 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).

Israelis shop at the Bilu Center in Kiryat Ekron on August 1, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/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.

According to a report Monday by the Kan public broadcaster, Netanyahu wants a new round of handouts to be delivered in mid-September, with a view to helping the population celebrate the High Holiday season, which often involves large outlays on food and other goods.

Unlike the wave of handouts begun this week, which gave equal amounts to all Israelis based only on their family status and the number of children they have — with the exclusion of high wage earners — the September payments may be biased in favor of low-income members of the population, the report said.

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Likud faction meeting at the Knesset, August 3, 2020. (Knesset channel)

The holiday period begins with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, on September 18, and continues over the following three weeks, which include Yom Kippur and the week-long Sukkot festival that begins October 2.

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.

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 21.6% with some 800,000 Israelis jobless, according to the Israeli Employment Service on Tuesday.

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