Stimulus cash boosted for big families after ultra-Orthodox, Arab pressure

Government agrees to payouts for every child, increases funds for newly released soldiers; proposal now expected to be brought for final Knesset votes

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and their children take part in a protest on May 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men and their children take part in a protest on May 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Israel Katz has agreed to increase the stimulus checks for large families, following pressure from ultra-Orthodox and Arab parties.

Under the original plan, single Israelis aged 18 and over would each receive a one-time payment of NIS 750 ($218). Couples with one child would receive 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.

Under the revised plan, reported by Hebrew media Tuesday, families will receive NIS 500 ($146) for each of their first four kids, with another NIS 300 ($87) from the fifth child onward.

The changes came after negotiations between the treasury and United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, who oversees the Knesset’s Finance Committee and threatened to block the entire aid plan if no changes were made. A similar demand was made last week by MK Ahmad Tibi of the predominantly-Arab Joint List party.

MK Moshe Gafni speaks during a rally of United Torah Judaism in Tiberias, on April 3, 2019.(David Cohen/Flash90)

The Orthodox and Arab communities have significantly higher birthrates than other Israelis, meaning the amendment primarily benefits them.

The Finance Ministry also agreed to increase the payouts for newly-released IDF soldiers, raising the sum from NIS 750 ($219) to NIS 1,250 ($365) for those discharged in the past year.

The plan is expected to be approved by the parliament in its final two readings later on Tuesday. The funds will be distributed directly to Israelis’ bank accounts in the coming days.

The Knesset advanced the original plan Monday night amid the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic, with the legislation passing its first reading in parliament 80-0. It was then sent to the Finance Committee for further mark-up before it comes up for its final votes.

Illustrative: Young Arab boys play football in Jerusalem’s Old City, on April 08, 2016 (Corinna Kern/FLASH90)

When the plan was originally announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this month, it drew public criticism for awarding all citizens grants with no regard to how hard they’ve been hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Responding to the criticism, the Prime Minister’s Office said the grants 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.”

It also said 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.

People who are not already receiving government stipends for one reason or another, and thus whose bank account details are not already available to the state, will likely be required to apply online and submit that data.

Some NIS 6.5 billion ($1.9 billion) will be allocated for the grant.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the weekly cabinet meeting, at the Foreign Affairs Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 5, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

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 over 20% with some 800,000 Israelis jobless, according to the Israeli Employment Service.

The government and Netanyahu in particular have faced harsh criticism and growing protests over their handling of the financial impact of the virus and the provision of assistance to those who are struggling.

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.

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