Government approves grants for self-employed hit by virus crisis

People who have seen at least a 25% decline in income since onset of crisis eligible for up to NIS 6,000 in funding

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

View of closed shops in the empty Dizengoff Center, in Tel Aviv on  March 19, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
View of closed shops in the empty Dizengoff Center, in Tel Aviv on March 19, 2020 (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The cabinet on Thursday approved emergency grants for self-employed Israelis whose businesses have been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

The vote, held via telephone, was part of the government effort to bolster small businesses, which are especially vulnerable to the economic shutdown put in place to stymie the spread of the virus in the country.

The funds will go to businesses that have seen at least a 25 percent decline since the start of the crisis in Israel in March, compared to the same period last year.

For businesses that began operations after March 2019, the sum will be calculated against their average monthly income until the crisis. The business must have been in operation between September 1, 2019, and February 29, 2020.

The grant will only apply to people whose average monthly income is over NIS 2,000 ($550), and under NIS 20,000 ($5,500), and over age 20.

Recipients will receive 65% of their average monthly income, but no more than NIS 6,000 ($1,640). Self-employed people who make NIS 16,000-20,000 ($4,400-5,500) per month will receive NIS 3,000 ($820).

The Tax Authority will distribute the funds, and interested self-employed workers can apply on its website. The authority said the grants would likely be disbursed before the Passover holiday next week.

A second wave of grants meant to cover April expenses is expected to amount to as much as NIS 8,000 ($2,000) for each recipient, the Calcalist business daily reported.

The coronavirus pandemic has largely shuttered Israel’s economy, with over a million Israelis seeking jobless benefits for the first time in the state’s history.

Over 840,000 people registered for unemployment in March. Some 160,000 were already unemployed, leading to a total of over a million as of Thursday.

The staggering figure amounts to 24.6% of Israel’s workforce. Only a month ago, before the coronavirus outbreak, unemployment in Israel was at a record low of under 4%.

Israel has unveiled a NIS 80 billion ($22.5 billion) economic rescue plan to help the economy survive the pandemic.

On Wednesday the Treasury approved a NIS 650 million ($180 million) package to bolster the tech industry.

The virus has infected over 6,200 Israelis, and killed 33.

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