Government delays aid package for workers hit by virus restrictions
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Major demonstration planned for Tel Aviv on Saturday night

Government delays aid package for workers hit by virus restrictions

Despite growing public anger, PM and finance minister miss self-imposed deadline to present economic plan to help self-employed and small business owners

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Transportation Minister Israel Katz attend the inauguration ceremony for a new train station in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi, September 17, 2018. (Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Transportation Minister Israel Katz attend the inauguration ceremony for a new train station in the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Malachi, September 17, 2018. (Flash90)

The government on Wednesday delayed the release of a highly touted aid package for Israeli workers and businesses hurt by the tightening restrictions on economic activity, amid reported disagreements over the method for distributing the funds to those in need.

As part of a series of measures approved by the government Monday to halt the ongoing surge in new infections, the Finance Ministry was given 48 hours to draft a compensation package for those hurt by the latest regulations, which included the closure of many entertainment venues and limiting the number of patrons at restaurants.

But despite promises by Finance Minister Israel Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the financial aid would be available as soon as possible, discussions over the final content of the economic package were continuing late Wednesday night, with no announcement in the offing.

According to a Channel 12 news report, Treasury officials told Netanyahu that despite his promises, both technical and legislative difficulties mean that funds would not be available to workers until August at the earliest.

“I don’t want us to wait for legislation to pass. I don’t want a computerized form. I want a one-click system,” Netanyahu was reported as telling them in response.

The package is expected to provide aid to self-employed and independent workers whose income fell by at least 60 percent through June 2021, Channel 13 reported. The program will cost some NIS 70 billion ($20.3 billion).

Most independent workers will receive 70% of their original salary up to a maximum of NIS 15,000 ($4,300) every two months. Businesses that make up to NIS 100 million per year will receive up to NIS 500,000 every two months.

Netanyahu is facing growing anger and criticism over the government’s handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic, with polls indicating growing disapproval of his stewardship of the economy.

Israeli workers from the culture and art industry clash with police during a protest outside the Ministry of Finance in Jerusalem on June 15, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash9)

Unemployment at its height reached over 25 percent, with over a million Israelis out of work; now, over 800,000 are still unemployed, with that figure expected to climb in light of renewed restrictions put in place to combat the surge in new infections.

There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy that say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.

On Tuesday, Katz said that in light of the new restrictions, he was working on a “comprehensive aid package for wage workers, self-employed and business owners” that he would present to Netanyahu by that night.

“Additionally, aid will be given to businesses themselves in accordance with the size of the business and the extent of the harm,” he wrote on Facebook.

Katz said the plan was “based on the principle of mutual guarantee” and would provide improved unemployed benefits for unemployed workers over the next year, as well as “a permanent monthly living stipend” for the self-employed.

Israelis sit bars and restaurants in Jerusalem, on May 27. 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s Likud party who became finance minister in May, added that the plan would incorporate “lessons from the previous plans, which were decided on before my time, in order to ensure the quick the implementation of the decisions.”

In the meantime, those hoping to benefit from the package will have to wait.

Amid the growing anger, a mass demonstration has been called for Saturday night in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square to protest the lack of government aid for workers hit by the virus restrictions and the delays in receiving the promised funds.

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