Knesset Votes to Restore Welfare Payments for Pandemic Jobless

The change in the law permits recipients of government allowances to receive retroactive unemployment compensation from March through June without reducing their other benefits

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Shuttered stores in Jerusalem during the coronavirus pandemic, March 2020.
Shuttered stores in Jerusalem during the coronavirus pandemic, March 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Knesset gave final approval to a bill early Tuesday that will enable those who have been laid off due to the coronavirus pandemic to receive both unemployment compensation for the period from March through June and other government allowances for which they were eligible.

As a result, more than 50,000 needy recipients, single mothers, the disabled and women between the ages of 62 and 67 who either lost their jobs or were put on unpaid leave following the COVID-19 outbreak, will receive thousands of shekels in retroactive payments that were deducted from their regular government assistance allowances for the months of March, April and May. The amended law will permit them to receive both unemployment compensation and government allowances for June as well.

National Insurance Institute director general Meir Shpigler told Haaretz that the retroactive payments will be transferred to the recipients’ bank accounts within two weeks. He expressed support for making the change permanent so that qualifying recipients can receive both government allowances and unemployment compensation on a routine basis.

Israel's National Insurance Director Meir Shpigler.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

“From a professional and ethical standpoint, we support regulating the issue on a permanent basis,” he said. “These are elementary subsistence allowances for population groups at the bottom of the socioeconomic pyramid, populations that a well-organized society should provide support for.”

The change in the law was made through two legislative amendments sponsored by the prior social services minister, Ofir Akunis, with the support of National Insurance Institute director general Shpiger. The change followed reports in Haaretz about the reduction in government benefits that the prior law required of those who began receiving unemployment compensation after being laid off in the pandemic.

The amendment to the law also had the support of Finance Minister Yisrael Katz, of the current social services minister, Itzik Shmuli, and of a number of social welfare and social justice organizations.

Up until now, the law permitted qualifying recipients of government allowances to receive full benefits even if they had income from a job, but the benefits were reduced by any unemployment compensation that they received. As a result, for example, a 38-year-old single mother with three children who earned a salary of 3,000 shekels a month was entitled to government income assistance of 2,869 shekels per month, bringing her monthly income up to 5,869 shekels. If she was dismissed from her job or placed on unpaid leave due to the coronavirus pandemic, she would have been eligible for 2,400 shekels in monthly jobless benefits but her other government allowance would have been reduced to 1,034 shekels, leaving her with monthly income of 3,434, or 2,435 shekels less than when she was working.

A woman gets her temperature tested at the entrance to the National Insurance building in Jerusalem, March 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Attorney Ohad Amar and the Breaking Walls organization, one of the groups advocating for the change in the law, called the passage of the amendment “a significant and important step,” but they said it was still not enough. “The road ahead in lifting the existential threat from the heads of the most disadvantaged populations is still long,” they said, vowing to work towards passage of a permanent law that will allow recipients to receive government subsistence benefits and unemployment compensation.

Former Social Services Minister Akunis, the bill’s sponsor, expressed satisfaction over passage of this week’s legislation, telling Haaretz it addresses an injustice. He called it “the correct step from a social and moral standpoint, particularly at this time.”

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