Israel to expand virus grants to self-employed workers
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Israel to expand virus grants to self-employed workers

PM, finance minister agree to ease criteria for receiving aid, say they’ll raise overall economic support package to NIS 4 billion

Self-employed Israelis take part in a protest outside the Knesset on March 30, 2020, amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Self-employed Israelis take part in a protest outside the Knesset on March 30, 2020, amid the coronavirus outbreak. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon on Wednesday announced an expansion of grants to self-employed Israelis whose businesses are struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In addition to easing the criteria to receive the grant, they also decided on raising the maximum sum a self-employed worker can receive to NIS 10,500.

A statement from the Finance Ministry said the overall aid package for self-employed workers will be increased to NIS 4 billion ($1.1 billion), subject to government approval.

Over 600,000 self-employed Israelis are expected to be eligible for the grant, according to the ministry.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon in Jerusalem on March 11, 2019 (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Also Wednesday, the unemployment rate in Israel reached 25.33 percent, with 1,059,429 Israelis now looking for jobs.

According to figures released Sunday by the Employment Service, the Red Sea resort city of Eilat has been the hardest hit by the crisis, with the unemployment rate spiking to 70% from 3.3% at the start of March.

Israel has taken a number of steps to shore up the economy amid the sharp dropoff in economic activity due to coronavirus-related restrictions, among them increased unemployment benefits and stipends for the elderly and families with children.

On Monday, the Bank of Israel announced it was cutting interest rates to 0.1%, to help the coronavirus-battered economy weather the crisis. It will slash the rate by more than half from 0.25%.

The bank said GDP contracted by 5% in the first quarter of 2020, and 5% negative growth is predicted for the next quarter as well. Debt-to-GDP ratio was predicted to reach 75% in 2020.

An Israeli man walks past closed stores in the empty Mamila Mall in Jerusalem on March 23, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Since the beginning of March, the government has instituted increasingly severe measures in an effort to contain a spread of the deadly novel coronavirus. Israelis have been ordered to stay at home, only venturing out for essential needs. Those who can work from home are able to continue to do so, but many of those who cannot and are not employed in essential jobs have been placed on leave without pay. As the economy has slowed down unemployment figures for the first time ever spiked past 1 million at the beginning of the month, bringing the unemployment rate to 25%.

As of Wednesday, 72 Israelis have died from COVID-19, with over 9,400 people confirmed to be carriers of the virus.

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