Nat'l Economic Council chairman: Poor are least impacted by COVID poverty

Rivlin asks to reduce fines for people in dire economic circumstances

A beggar sits and asks for money amid the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, 2020 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
A beggar sits and asks for money amid the coronavirus crisis, Jerusalem, 2020
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
“The poor are not affected by the economic recession because they receive benefits, and those did not change,” National Economic Council chairman Avi Simhon said Tuesday. Those who suffer the most are the middle class and businesses owners, he told Ynet.
In response, the Rise Israel youth movement said there are “hundreds of thousands of jobless young people, homeless, [youngsters who are] dropping out of school. They [politicians] compete over who will tell greater, more cynical lies.”
There were 23,233 people who were fired during the first lockdown, rehired and then fired again during the current lockdown that started on September 13, the Central Bureau of Statistics reported Tuesday. Since that date, 39,876 more people have lost their jobs, it said.
This means employers who were able to hang on to workers after the first lockdown are now letting them go, a person at the statistics bureau who is familiar with the matter said.
Many of those fired were in the service industry, including office cleaners and security guards who used to protect malls and schools, which are now closed.
Measures taken so far to curb the spread of COVID-19 “have painful financial costs that hurt the [national] economy to the tune of billions of shekels in the short run and [have] long-term social and economic implications,” Finance Ministry director-general Keren Terner Eyal warned the coronavirus cabinet in a public letter to Health Ministry director-general Chezy Levy on Tuesday.
To impose harsher social-distancing measures and closing more businesses only a week after the lockdown was imposed will damage the public’s trust in the government, she said.
Business owners and the general public should be given a chance to follow the guidelines before more are heaped on them, Terner Eyal said.
“The claim that a lack of ability to enforce a ban on people traveling for leisure or social activities [must] lead to more limitations on private businesses is not reasonable,” she said.
The government approved a NIS 10.5 billion economic relief package on Monday night. It includes modifications of the previously approved Safety Net plan, among them delivering 50% of aid money as quickly as possible to businesses that can demonstrate they suffered a loss of at least 25% of their profits. The other half of the benefits are to be delivered by the end of October.
Included in the plan is a voluntary 10% salary cut for ministers and the prime minister.
President Reuven Rivlin on Tuesday instructed President’s Residence director-general Harel Tubi to adopt similar measures for Rivlin’s salary.
On Tuesday, the Knesset approved breaking budgetary limitations in a first reading. The bill includes increased spending to deal with the COVID-19 outbreak and offers aid to those hurt by the economic fallout caused by the pandemic and two nationwide lockdowns within six months.
Finance Minister Israel Katz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intended to present the government with a new plan called Beating Heart on Tuesday or Wednesday. It would keep privately owned businesses open during the lockdown.
“The business sector is the beating heart of the Israeli economy, and everything must be done to keep it going,” Katz told Netanyahu. He said clear rules were needed, and he criticized protesters for their behavior.
Business owners have complained that the aid is too little and too late. The government said it has not spent all of the aid money.
In the hotel industry, one of those hit hardest by COVID-19, 3,000 people are still working out of 41,000 employed persons in 2019, The Marker reported Tuesday.
Business owners, angry over a complex policy that allows people to protest in the street or pray, but not to sit down in a coffee shop and be served food while keeping social distance, began to serve clients with a sign in the store saying, “Protest.”
“If people are allowed to get together and break the lockdown in a Balfour [Street] protest, I can have a protest in my own store,” a business owner told N12 on Monday night.
On Tuesday, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Rivlin reached an agreement that stipulates fines would be reduced for people who find themselves in dire economic circumstances due to the crisis.
The reductions do not apply to fines imposed for violation of corona-related regulations, but they do apply to a broad range of other fines.
Rivlin said he was troubled that so many Israelis have suddenly found themselves on the verge of insolvency.
“Too many Israelis are  fighting for their lives financially,” Rivlin said, adding that under the present circumstances, “the State of Israel must lend a hand to its citizens and extend help to those people who need it.”
Such help would not be forthcoming in cases that involved the breaching of regulations that had been formulated with the aim of preventing the spread of the coronavirus, he said.