Stimulus cash likely to benefit big families after ultra-Orthodox, Arab pressure

Government agrees to payouts for every child; discussions ongoing in Knesset Finance Committee after bill passes first vote

Arab MK Ahmad Tibi (R) with United Torah Judaism's Moshe Gafni (L) at a meeting of the Knesset opposition, March 9, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Arab MK Ahmad Tibi (R) with United Torah Judaism's Moshe Gafni (L) at a meeting of the Knesset opposition, March 9, 2014. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A government plan to hand out stimulus checks to all Israeli citizens except very high earners will likely be changed to favor families with many children following demands by ultra-Orthodox and Arab parties, Hebrew-language media reported Tuesday.

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.

According to a compromise deal agreed at the Knesset’s Finance Committee, in addition to that, a family will get NIS 500 ($146) for a fourth child, NIS 250 ($73) for the fifth and sixth, and NIS 100 ($29) for any additional child beyond six.

Coalition whip Miki Zohar (Likud) said at the start of the meeting that the government and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would agree to that compromise, which was reached during overnight negotiations.

Ultra-Orthodox men and their children take part in a protest against government restrictions in the neighborhood of Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, on May 10, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“Families with many children don’t have to lose out for having many children,” he said. “I think we are benefiting the citizens.”

The development came after the committee chairman, United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni, threatened to block the entire aid plan if no additional payments were added for the fourth child and up.

A similar demand was made last week by MK Ahmad Tibi of the predominantly Arab Joint List party.

Both the ultra-Orthodox and Arab communities have significantly higher birthrates than other Israelis, meaning the amendment primarily benefits members of those communities.

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 thus sent 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.

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

The vote came a day after the cabinet voted to provide initial approval for 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.

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.”

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)

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 details are not already available to the state, will likely be required to apply online and submit that data.

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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