Facing doubters, Netanyahu, Katz, take bold steps against COVID-19 poverty

Approval of the Safety Net plan is joined with changing former unemployment benefits policy and pushing ahead with digitizing government services.

Israel Katz chats with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel Katz chats with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
The “Safety Net” plan championed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz is being debated in the Knesset Finance Committee on Monday and is likely to be approved. Meant to offer unemployed Israelis benefits until June 2021, it also offers vocational training and scaled assistance to businesses.  
Katz and Likud MK Etty Hava Atia announced on Monday that in order to encourage people to seek vocational training, they will not face a 30% cut in their unemployment benefits. The offered change is included in the plan being discussed, and the new policy will be upheld during the COVID-19 crisis.
Katz said that “in addition, I am looking into the option of giving a special incentive to employers who will train those on unpaid leave to [new] lines of high-priority work of value to productivity and economic growth.” 
Israel needs workers in construction, nursing and agriculture. Until COVID-19 struck, it relied on workers from China, the Palestinian Authority, the Philippines and Thailand to meet the demand. Allegedly due to the shortage of Chinese workers and managers, the opening of the Tel Aviv light rail was delayed by a year.
In addition, Israel needs skilled workers in the fields of digitalization, green-tech and energy – as the recently approved EastMed pipeline project will require workers with a whole new skill set, since such a large-scale project has never been attempted in the country before. 
The government already earmarked NIS 280 million to digitize government services on Sunday when it decided to adopt the Estonian model, The Marker reported. The decision includes the creation of eight teams to map eight life situations that mandate a citizen to come into contact with the state: birth, opening a business, importing goods, moving between jobs, moving one’s address, disability, old age care and death.
The teams are supposed to complete their work within eight months. When completed, each Israeli will have a digital zone he or she may use to get services from the state, nixing the need to wait in offices for an official to become available and filling out paper forms. To ensure privacy, data requested by one agency from another will be deleted after it is obtained and used. 
The “Security Net” plan arrives on the heels of the “Check for All” plan, two large-scale attempts to use public funding to help an economy that has been severely hurt by COVID-19 and the health restrictions imposed by the administration to curb the spread of the virus.
On Sunday, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported that most Israelis (53%) do not trust that the government is able to protect them during the coronavirus crisis. Some 55%  of respondents said they did not have faith in the Finance Ministry to help the economic situation. 
Finance Ministry accountant-general Roni Hezekiah resigned on Sunday; his resignation will come into effect with the passage of a state budget, or in late October, whichever comes first. 
The government is obligated by law to pass the budget by August 24, or else new elections will be held.
With Likud pushing for a rapid one-year budget, and Blue and White pushing for a two-year budget, Hezekiah would have been forced to run Israel with a budget originally proposed in 2017 if a new budget isn’t passed. 
“This saga seems to have no ending in sight,” a Finance Ministry official said, claiming that Hezekiah “has had enough.”