Government offers NIS 1 billion to help businesses

The eight-part plan includes grants of NIS 5,000 per employee not sent to unpaid leave.

Finance Minister Israel Katz at a meeting of the Finance Committee, July 20, 2020 (photo credit: ADINA WALLMAN/KNESSET SPOKESWOMAN)
Finance Minister Israel Katz at a meeting of the Finance Committee, July 20, 2020
A day before a nationwide lockdown, the Finance Ministry presented on Thursday an eight-part NIS 1 billion plan to help businesses struggling to remain open due to the restrictions. Employers who don’t put workers on unpaid leave could get up to NIS 5,000 per worker in a scaled system, Ynet reported on Thursday. The plan is meant to be presented to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The aid is meant to encourage employers, reeling from losses and uncertainty, to hold on to their workers with the government shouldering a portion of their wages.
The state begins to step in once a business loses 25% of its earnings (in comparison to 2019) and extends more aid as the losses mount. A store which lost 25% of its earnings would get aid if it opts to continue to employ more than 80% of its original number of workers. A travel agency that lost 80% of its earnings would be offered help to continue paying the wages of more than 40% of its pre-lockdown number of workers. By shouldering these wages,  the state hopes employees might be able to keep working and employers turn a profit once the lockdown is over.  
Other reported parts of the plan include local councils avoiding collecting property tax from businesses and the government extending Unemployment benefits until 2021 regardless of what the national unemployment figure is. Previously, benefits were tied to a 10% national unemployment figure, or higher, as reported by the Central Bureau of Statistics. A decrease in unemployment would have meant a decrease of benefits. This offers stability to those without work, but also motivates people to collect benefits and work for under the table payments during these difficult times.
“Every day of the nation-wide lockdown will cost us NIS 500 million,” explained Sapir Academic College researcher Ronen Arbel. “I’m sorry to tell you that anything less than a 30-day lockdown won’t achieve its goal.” The study was done in cooperation with  Prof. Emeritus Joseph Pliskin from Ben-Gurion University.
Chair of the Technology Marketing Department, Arbel presented the coronavirus committee with early findings that demonstrate that “the health benefits of the lockdown are exaggerated and its cost is being played down.”
“We spend NIS 500 million per day, and in exchange save the lives of between ten to eleven people," he argued.
“NIS 500 million is the annual addition to purchase additional medicines for this country’s health service,” he said. “Can you imagine they would tell the Knesset they want to spend NIS 500 million on medical treatments and in exchange save 11 people? Each death prevented as a result of this lockdown would cost us NIS 39 million, this is beyond any known logic,” he said.
The findings were presented to the Knesset corona-virus committee head Yifat Shasha-Biton
Arbel isn’t the only one doubting the lockdown will achieve its goals. The reason behind enforcing a lockdown on Friday was to prevent large family meals over the holiday which could spread coronavirus among different members of an extended family, yet many Israelis simply had these large social gatherings before Friday.
According to the restrictions as of Thursday evening, the lockdown makes it illegal to drive to Eilat for a family vacation, but fine to fly to Greece. It’s not legal to go to the gym, but legal to attend holiday prayers. Fine to take a run on the beach, not fine to swim in the sea.
“This country is forcing me to become a half-crook,” a shop owner who plans to keep working told The Marker. His plan is to use a worker in a nearby grocery store to “deliver” goods, as grocery stores and food deliveries are allowed. A regular falafel seller “doesn’t know what an app is,” owner of Falafel Baribua Guy Yaakr said, “he just closes.”
“I am considering opening a faux delivery service,” he said, “a client could call me and order and I’ll send a ‘messenger’ [a regular worker] to hand him the falafel. I don’t know how [morally] low this government wants to sink us to.”
Hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to lose their jobs because of this lockdown, despite the loopholes they might try and exploit. Domestic tourism and restaurants are expected to be worse hit.