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Israel: Anger mounts as self-employed discover virus stipends far less than promised

Anger mounted as thousands of self-employed Israelis discovered that stipends approved for those hurt economically by the coronavirus were far less than what was promised by the government.

Ministers on Sunday approved stipends of up to NIS 7,500 ($2,170) for self-employed Israelis, salaried employees and business owners.

But many received notification that the amount they would actually receive was less than NIS 2,000 ($580.)

Harel Papo who performs as a mentalist received a notification that he would have NIS 1,329 ($385) deposited in his account on Wednesday.

“I have signed contracts, I was supposed to earn NIS 500,000 ($144,000) this year,” he told Channel 12 TV on Sunday evening. “Instead I have had to cancel all my shows and there is no money. I’m looking at the Tax Authority website and they are just laughing at us.”

Another self-employed man, Tzahi Shtark told the channel he received notification he would be getting NIS 1,492 ($431,) calling decision makers “completely disconnected” from reality.

The sentiment was shared by Meir Spiegler, the director of the National Insurance Institute, which oversees Israel’s unemployment and welfare benefits, who slammed a top finance ministry official as being “out of touch” with the situation and impervious to the economic suffering of everyday people.

Speaking to Army Radio, Spiegler lambasted Shaul Meridor, the head of the finance ministry’s budget department, who had earlier criticized the stipends as a “negative incentive” to work.

“How could he say such a thing? Has he ever been unemployed in his life?
Does he know what it is like to be in a situation where he cannot meet the financial commitments he has made? Does he know what it means to have his cut salary cut in half?” Spiegler said, accusing the treasury of torpedoing many elements of the rescue package.

“First he should go out and learn, and then he will come back and make decisions that concern the other side of the barricade, the people of Israel and the public,” he said. “Trust me, the public wants to work.”

The payments are part of a financial aid package unveiled last week by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz, amid complaints from many Israelis that they haven’t received assistance promised by the government.

A joint statement from Netanyahu and Katz pledged the money would enter the bank accounts of those eligible to receive it in the coming days. It also said Katz would distribute a memorandum of a bill authorizing the rest of the aid package, which includes bimonthly payments to businesses and an expansion of the eligibility for unemployment benefits.

“Tomorrow we’ll bring the remainder of the plan to the government,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday morning, pledging the aid package would be fast-tracked by the Knesset.

“We can overcome the coronavirus crisis, or at least bring Israel to an economic and health routine that allows us to live reasonably well over the coming year. That’s the goal and this is the first step,” he added.

Netanyahu’s comments came a day after some 10,000 Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv against the government’s economic policies during the pandemic. The premier’s Blue and White coalition partners expressed support for the demonstrators and called for an economic plan that extends beyond the coming months.

As Israel contends with the alarming surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, Netanyahu has faced a tide of criticism over the government’s handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic, with polls indicating growing disapproval of his stewardship of the economy.

According to a Channel 13 poll published Sunday evening, 61 percent 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.

Amid growing discontent Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announced last week that he would name “a special manager for the campaign against the coronavirus.”

However, on Sunday former general Roni Numa, who was the leading candidate for the post, told Edelstein he was not interested in the job, Channel 12 reported.

The Ynet news site reported that former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot was prepared to take the job if asked.

“I’m a soldier. If they call me I will be there immediately to deal with this national event,” Ynet quoted him as telling confidants.

There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy that say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.

Unemployment in Israel is at some 21 percent — or 850,000 people — and is rising, as restrictions imposed amid record daily coronavirus infections further batter the economy.

Unemployment at the height of the pandemic reached over 25%, with over a million Israelis out of work.

Virus cases are currently rising at over 1,000 per day. The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 362 on Sunday night.

Source: TOI Staff