Coronavirus: 382,000 Israelis mistakenly get unemployment benefits

Nearly NIS 1 billion were given to people who didn't qualify.

Illustrative photo of Israeli money (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Illustrative photo of Israeli money
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
 Israel's National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi) paid nearly a billion shekels in unemployment payments to people who did not qualify for them during the early days of the pandemic.
Payments averaging NIS 2,400 were sent to some 382,000 people who came back from unemployment but neglected to report that they were working, a total of about NIS 920 million, Bituach Leumi said.
Under normal circumstances, receiving unemployment benefits requires one to check in with the National Employment Service once a week to confirm that they are still looking for work. However, when the coronavirus pandemic caused the number of job seekers to soar and made in-person reporting impossible, the system was adjusted to allow job seekers to report online. It seems that, as the online system was first rolled out, the database would keep a person's status as unemployed unless he manually reported that he had found work - which was often not done.  
This caused many people to continue receiving benefits even after they had returned to work, and also gave Israeli officials inflated unemployment statistics which were used for policy planning. 
Bituach Leumi said it will go after all the people who received the money, and has begun contacting people. However, it is not yet threatening action, recognizing the financial troubles many households face during the economic crisis.
Bituach Leumi Director-General Meir Spiegler blamed the mistake on the National Employment Service, saying it was their responsibility to provide correct and up-to-date employment information. However, National Employment Service head Rami Graur denied the blame, saying that it is Bituach Leumi's responsibility to verify who is eligible for social benefits, in an interview with Ynet.
Israel's unemployment policies during the pandemic have been criticized as providing too much incentive not to go back to work and continue getting paid. This week, the National Employment Service asked employers to report employees who choose not to come back from unpaid leave, so that their unemployment benefits can be reduced accordingly. Reports can be made at or by calling *9687
According to the most recent statistics, 704,622 people are registered as unemployed in Israel. In the first week since the latest lockdown was eased, 14,317 people returned to work, while 10,873 new job seekers were registered.