The Knesset advanced legislation that would see the government give stimulus checks to most Israeli citizens, amid the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic, with the proposal passing its first reading in parliament on Monday night.
The bill was passed with 80 votes of approval and none against, sending it to the Finance Committee for further mark-up before it goes up for its second and third readings in the Knesset plenum later this week.
The vote came a day after the cabinet voted to provide initial approval for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan aimed at invigorating the economy during the coronavirus pandemic. Following public criticism, the plan was slightly reduced from its original form, which would have seen all citizens get grants.
Under the plan, which excludes high-earners, single Israelis aged 18 and over will each receive NIS 750 ($218). Couples with one child will receive a one-time payment of NIS 2,000 ($583), rising to NIS 2,500 ($729) for those with two children, and NIS 3,000 ($875) for those with three or more.
According to the Prime Minister’s Office, people “receiving support payments for convalescent care, handicapped status, income assurance, needy new immigrants (who have been in the country for at least two years), the unemployed over 67, and the elderly who receive income supplements” will all receive larger grants.
At the opening of the cabinet meeting during which the proposal was advanced, Netanyahu said the plan will be quickly submitted for Knesset approval “so that the money reaches you, citizens of Israel, as quickly as possible.”
“We are also working on additional plans to stimulate the economy and channel funds to those who have been hurt by the coronavirus,” Netanyahu said. “We will continue to move the wheels of the economy in order to put people back to work.”
Some NIS 6.5 billion ($1.9 billion) will be allocated for the grants, which will be given to all citizens with the exception of “those earning over NIS 640,000 (approximately $186,000) per annum and senior civil servants earning over NIS 30,000 (approximately $8,700) per month.”
People who are not already receiving government stipends for one reason or another, and thus whose bank account information is not already possessed by the state, will likely be required to apply online and submit that data.
During a national lockdown in March-April the Israeli economy came to an almost total standstill. Unemployment soared to 26% and over a million Israelis were out of work. Over the past few months restrictions have mostly been lifted but unemployment remains at over 20% with some 800,000 Israelis in the job market, according to the Israeli Employment Service.
The government, and in particular Netanyahu, have faced harsh criticism and growing protests over their handling of the financial impact of the virus and the provision of aid to the population.
Senior Finance Ministry officials, including budget chief Shaul Meridor and director general Keren Terner Eyal, opposed the stimulus check plan ahead of its unveiling, likening it to “throwing suitcases of money that we don’t have into the sea,” Channel 13 news reported.