Israel’s Cabinet on Monday approved a 2 billion shekel ($624 million) plan to help business owners and the self-employed who have been hurt financially as a result of government-imposed COVID-19 closures.

The plan, dubbed “From Blocking to Growth,” was proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and involves grants to the affected sectors as well as an extension of the deadline for the payment of local property taxes.

“The money will immediately make it easier for businesses, and within a short time we will open the entire economy and emerge from the crisis once and for all,” said Netanyahu, according to a statement from his office.

Katz added that “additional assistance is necessary in order to enable businesses to get through the process between the [coronavirus] vaccines and the end of the lockdowns, which we will perhaps yet need. We are in the midst of a stretch that will help the Israeli economy achieve full opening.”

The key points of the plan are as follows:

1. The eligibility threshold for the assistance grants to businesses regarding regular expenses as was determined for November-December 2020 will also be extended for the January-February 2021 eligibility period. In addition, the finance minister has the authority to apply this extension to the remaining eligibility periods.

2. The additional grant given to businesses will be determined by the loss of turnover. Businesses with a 2019 turnover of 18,000-300,000 shekels [$5,622-$93,692] and whose turnover declined by at least 25 percent during March to December 2020 compared with the same period in 2019 will be eligible to receive a grant of up to 3,000 shekels ($936) for a 25-40 percent loss of turnover; up to 5,000 shekels ($1,500) for a 40-60 percent loss of turnover and up to 9,000 shekels ($2,800) for a loss of more than 60 percent turnover.

3. Local property tax refunds will be given to those businesses that suffered more than 400 million shekels ($125 million) in losses. Eligibility for the refund will be determined according to the eligibility threshold for businesses with 200 million-400 million shekels ($62.5 million-$125 million) turnover relative to the same period in 2019.

Before presenting the plan, Netanyahu opened the Cabinet meeting by stressing the progress that has been made in inoculating the Israeli public.

“The millions of vaccines that we brought to the country have put Israel in first place in the world in emerging from the coronavirus,” he said, referring to findings by the Our World in Data research institute, according to which the Jewish state tops the rest of the globe in the number of administered COVID-19 vaccine per capita.

As of Tuesday morning, 1,370,000 Israelis had received the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine.

“I am doing everything so that we will be able to continue vaccinating at this rapid pace,” added Netanyahu, who then said that he will convene the Cabinet again by Wednesday in order to “decide on tightening the lockdown in a final effort to defeat the pandemic.”

“Thanks to the millions of vaccines and the short, tightened lockdown, we will save many lives and be the first in the world to open the economy,” he said, pointing to a Bank of Israel announcement that the “forecast regarding the shrinking of the economy has declined from 6 percent to 3.5 percent.”

“This is a good sign,” concluded Netanyahu.

JNS

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