Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s proposal to speedily disburse a total of NIS 6 billion ($1.75 billion) in handouts to all Israelis, to help cope with the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, is reportedly now on the agenda for Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, having initially been left off the schedule.
However, even if it is approved by ministers, as expected, it is not likely to be implemented for another week, TV reports said Saturday.
Unnamed government sources told the Kan public broadcaster that the plan was awaiting approval from legal advisers and would then be raised at the cabinet meeting Sunday for government approval.
After that, however, it would still have several further stages to clear, according to a Channel 13 news report Saturday afternoon. The aim is to have the plan approved by the ministerial committee for legislation on Monday. It will then go to the Finance Committee, and finally for approval by Knesset vote, with the payments only actually to be made in about a week, if all goes according to plan.
If so, this will represent a shift from the initial intention; it was thought that the funds were to come from social security payments, and therefore likely would not require formal legislation to be approved.
Initial plans to weigh the handout Sunday had reportedly been held up due to coalition infighting over the Netanyahu initiative’s central provision — for the money to be shared out among all Israelis, irrespective of need.
Facing harsh criticism over his response to the financial crisis set off by the coronavirus pandemic, Netanyahu on Wednesday announced the new financial aid package that will see the government cut a check to every Israeli.
But critics denounced it. Roee Cohen, the head of Lahav, Israel’s Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses, called it “cheap populism” and said it was “a surreal decision to give money to people who don’t need it, instead of people who are crying out.”
The plan would see couples with one child receive a one-time payment of NIS 2,000 ($583), which rises to NIS 2,500 ($729) for those with two children, and NIS 3,000 ($875) for those with three or more. Single Israelis aged 18 and over would each receive NIS 750 ($218).
The proposal was roundly criticized by Finance Ministry officials, the premier’s coalition partners and the public. The criticism mostly centered on the plan’s call to disburse money to all Israelis — regardless of income or whether they were hurt economically by the government-mandated restrictions to contain the virus — and its high cost.
The plan was initially left off the agenda for Sunday’s weekly cabinet meeting, which was released on Friday, according to both the Ynet news site and Kan public broadcaster. By Saturday, though, it was said to be on the schedule for a ministerial vote.
The Kan public broadcaster reported the initial hold up was due to a dispute between Netanyahu’s Likud party and its coalition partners in the Blue and White faction, headed by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, which is demanding that the grants only go to lower and middle income citizens, Kan reported.
When the plan was being devised, the grants were initially not supposed to go to more wealthy Israelis, but were extended to everyone to speed up the handout process, the report said.
Amid the outcry over the plan after its announcement, Blue and White is now demanding that the grants be given out according to income levels, as was originally planned.
When he announced the plan, Netanyahu called on politicians to quickly support it, saying he was sure the whole government would approve it and expressed hope it would not prove necessary to anchor it in new legislation, since that would take time.
Netanyahu said he wanted to “quickly get it to all Israeli households” and that “if we start arguing about why, it will take longer — weeks, I hope not months… We’ll never get it done.”
“We need to get the wheels moving and make sure nobody falls between the cracks,” he said.
Israel’s Channel 13 news calculated Thursday that NIS 1.8 billion ($522 million) of the NIS 6 million in promised handouts will go to families with monthly income of over NIS 22,000 ($6,390), including over 200,000 families with income over NIS 40,000 ($12,775) per month. It noted that 114,000 Israelis with assets over $1 million, 16,000 Israelis with $5-50 million in assets, and 50 Israelis with assets of over $500 million will also receive the handouts.
Channel 12 news, highlighting what it suggested was the absurdity of indiscriminate payouts to all Israelis, noted Friday that Quentin Tarantino and family would receive NIS 2,000.
Amid the spiraling economic crisis and record-high numbers of new coronavirus infections, cabinet ministers agreed in the early hours of Friday morning on a series of new lockdown measures, including the open-ended closures of restaurants and gyms from Friday at 5 p.m.
But Netanyahu on Friday afternoon backtracked and delayed the restaurant closures until Tuesday after widespread criticism and threats by restaurant owners to defy the government orders.
The new restrictions are another blow to the faltering economy. As of Wednesday, 853,843 Israelis were out of work, amounting to an unemployment rate of 21 percent, the Israeli Employment Service said.
According to a Channel 13 poll published on Sunday, 61% of Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and 75% are unhappy with how his government has handled the economic fallout of the pandemic. Only 16% said that they were satisfied with the government’s economic response.
Thousands of people had donated millions of shekels as of Friday morning in an effort to redirect the virus handouts to those most in need.
The restrictions announced Friday will also limit gatherings, close non-essential shops and businesses on weekends and close beaches on weekends starting next week. Many of these restrictions, too, are being heavily criticized.