(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon released a NIS 21 million budget on Sunday, designated to assist families and municipalities hurt by the nationwide wildfires.
In a statement released on Sunday, Kahlon once again promised to help every citizen whose property was destroyed or damaged.
“The Finance Ministry, along with the Property Tax Fund and the [ministry’s] Capital Market, Insurance, and Savings Department, has made a decision to provide assistance to all citizens affected by the fire,” Kahlon said in the statement. “Later we will receive the appropriate indications from the qualified authorities as to whether it was hostile activity or arson, but right now we are responding to everyone.”
According to law, the state will compensate citizens for direct and indirect property damages caused as a result of hostile acts, war or terrorism, whether or not a citizen is privately insured. This compensation is given through the Tax Authority’s Property Tax Fund.
The authority set up a call center (*4954) for victims to contact and leave their details and property address for the authority’s assessors. According to Moshe Asher, director-general of the Tax Authority, more than 100 authority workers were dispatched on Sunday, mainly to the Haifa area.
However, in cases where the police and the Fire and Rescue Authority conclude there was no foul play involved, victims would have to rely solely on their private insurance. According to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics, roughly 45% of Israelis with home insurance are not covered in case of fire. And of those who have this insurance, not all have extended their coverage to include their possessions inside the home.
“[The Finance Ministry] has plans for everyone, even those who are not covered by insurance or the property tax laws,” Omri Harush, Kahlon’s spokesman, told The Jerusalem Post. “It is, however, premature and theoretical. We must first wait to get all the conclusive decisions and recommendations from the police as to which places were subject to acts of hostility and which were not, and only then act accordingly.”
However, Ilana Chernenko, a spokeswoman at the Finance Ministry, told the Post that “the state will compensate any victim of the fires, regardless of what caused the fire, assuming that said victim is insured.”
In his statement on Saturday, Kahlon said that his ministry is working with the agreement and collaboration of the insurance companies, and that all victims will be compensated.
“I call on the private insurance companies to provide victims with the best and immediate service first, and worry about ‘settling the books later.’ If there are any disagreements with the insurance companies, we will manage them,” Kahlon said. On Sunday, however, Kahlon’s spokesman refused to comment on any arrangements or plans regarding insurance companies. Representatives of the companies were unavailable for comment.
As for immediate relief, Kahlon made good on his Saturday night promise to grant victims an immediate NIS 2,500 compensation per family member.
“Out of the NIS 21m., NIS 15m. was given to the affected municipalities and councils for their immediate expenses. An additional NIS 6m. will be distributed among the affected families that can’t return to their homes,” Kahlon stated.
Citizens whose homes were destroyed or have been deemed by city engineers as unsafe to return to, are eligible to claim an immediate, one-time payment directly from their municipality or local authority.
“In the past such immediate compensation was capped at NIS 10,000 per household. However, this time we removed this cap. If a family has eight children then let them also get more,” said Kahlon.
According to Kahlon’s statement, he and the Finance Ministry’s chief economist concluded that the NIS 21m. expenditure will have no effect on the economy.