Website glitch erases 30,000 Israelis’ requests for unemployment benefits

Website glitch erases 30,000 Israelis’ requests for unemployment benefits

Tax Authority site fails to save 20% of morning’s submissions, forcing thousands to refile paperwork

A man walks by closed shops in the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on April 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A man walks by closed shops in the Mamilla Mall near Jerusalem's Old City on April 22, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

A malfunction in the Tax Authority website this week meant tens of thousands of Israelis would have to reenter their requests for grants after losing their income due to the coronavirus crisis.

Some 30,000 people — one of every five who registered for their unemployment benefits — were notified Thursday morning via text message that their details hadn’t been saved properly.

“Hello, due to a malfunction with the data input, unfortunately you must refile your request for grant,” the message said. “Sorry for the inconvenience.”

The system enabling the public to file their requests for this month’s payment opened in the early morning hours of Thursday, and some had woken up at night to be among the first to register, Hebrew-language media reported.

Some 120,000 others had succeeded in filing their requests by midday Thursday.

The money is expected to be paid in the coming days.

With the economy at a near-halt, jobless figures spiked to over 1.2 million in April, bringing the unemployment rate to an unprecedented 27%, from below 4% pre-coronavirus.

Small business owners and activists participate in a rally calling for financial support from the Israeli government in Jerusalem on May 2, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last month, the government approved an NIS 8 billion ($2.27 billion) plan to increase support for self-employed Israelis and small business owners who have been hit hard by the coronavirus, following accusations that Israel wasn’t helping businesses forced to shut down.

The plan includes a grant of up to NIS 400,000 per business or non-profit, depending on the degree to which its activities have been curtailed, the Finance Ministry said in a statement. The grants will be paid directly by the Tax Authority starting in May, the statement said, without giving details on how eligibility will be determined.

But many have expressed outrage at receiving only several hundred shekels in unemployment stipends a month, and sometimes less, after years of paying the National Insurance Institute large chunks of their income.

Protests by various groups demanding increased government help have been held almost daily in recent weeks, even as authorities have begun to take steps to open the economy back up in line with dwindling numbers of new coronavirus infections.

One of those groups is the self-employed, who have long complained of mistreatment by state and tax authorities, who they say take large amounts of their income but provide no social security benefits enjoyed by salaried employees.

Israel has so far granted the self-employed a payment of up to NIS 6,000 ($1,700) to help them weather the pandemic and last week approved a plan including a second stipend equaling 70 percent of their regular income up to a maximum amount of NIS 10,500 ($3,000). But for many Israelis living paycheck to paycheck, the stipends, which may be slow to reach their bank accounts, are not enough.

Economists believe it will take a year or more for Israel’s economy to recover from the crisis, and some businesses may be permanently hobbled.

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