The easing eligibility restrictions on unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus crisis ended over a week ago. Relief measures were introduced by the government in March, in an attempt to increase the number of furloughed workers entitled to unemployment benefits during the lockdown and cushion the financial blow to Israeli households. However, now that the relief has expired and eligibility requirements return to normal, many workers in industries which have been slower to recover and remain furloughed, are left with no income at all.

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Given the situation, with 20 percent unemployment, it is worth considering the eligibility for another benefit available for unemployed workers – income support for long-term unemployment.

"First of all, it is worth checking how many days you are eligible to receive payment for," said Advocate Yossi Biton, Social Security Law Specialist and manager of a Facebook support group for Social Security and Law. "The best way to do this is through the personal profile section of the Social Security website. Write down how many days of eligibility you are supposed to receive, and how many you have already used up. You can check how many days of unemployment have been paid to you up until May 31."

What are income assurance and who is eligible to receive them?
For those who have not returned to their previous job, or have not yet found a new job, and have already exhausted their accumulated unemployment days, Biton recommends filing a request for income support – aid similar to unemployment benefits, but one meant for long term periods.

Income support does not have a time limit, but unlike unemployment benefits which can be claimed up to three months retroactively from the date of dismissal – a claim for income support is calculated from the day of filing the claim and onwards. Therefore, it is worthwhile to get ahead and submit a request to Social Security as soon as possible.

In contrast to unemployment benefits which may be received by anyone who is eligible, qualifying for income support requires passing a means test, proving the financial situation of the jobseeker, who is also required to be available for job offers.

"As part of the means test, if you have financial assets, you will be required to present them as part of the claim. You will also be required to report checking account statements of the last three months. If you have a vehicle, you will need to declare it. A vehicle valued at over NIS 43,000 may affect eligibility for income support unless it is used for medical or work purposes. You will also be required to complete an eight page Social Security questionnaire to detail your financial situation and occupational skills and training, in order to present to you job offers,” explains Biton.

As usual, recipients of income support are required to report to the employment offices once a week or once a month, depending on age, similar to unemployment benefit recipients. However, due to the COVID-19 epidemic, jobseekers are currently invited selectively to the offices [of Social Security] to apply.

"If you receive a job offer, you are obliged to respond to it," says Biton. "Contrary to the recipient of unemployment benefits whose refusal may result in a 30-day offset from his or her eligibility days, a recipient of income support’s refusal may result in termination of the benefit."

The summons for employment services are based on the same parameters as summons for unemployment benefits. Today the offices are not open to the public except by setting an appointment in advance, because of COVID-19. They selectively invite people. Most days, the requirement is usually to come once a week, and from a certain age group onwards, once a month. There is also a medical committee that may determine exemption from summons for medical reasons.

"If you are offered a job, you need to check the extent of your eligibility. You are obliged to follow up with the referral, as if you refuse, it will lead to the termination of your income support," says Biton.

"If the applicant is not hired, the employer must show a significant reason why the job is not suitable for the applicant. They take into account the job applied for and the applicant’s previous job. For example, they would not hire a lawyer to be a security guard at a mall. Another issue may be the distance between the workplace and the employee's home. In any case, as long as you are receiving employment referrals, you must try to apply for them so as not to lose your eligibility" said Biton.

In the grand scheme of things, income support is not a solution

Until the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis, the government had attempted to reduce the number of income support recipients in an attempt to reduce overall unemployment benefits. In recent years, the government has had remarkable success in reducing eligibility, partly through the flagship program of the “employment circles” service. Alongside job offers, the program required some of the income support applicants found suitable to undergo a series of training courses aimed at developing various employment tools and skills – preparing for job interviews, writing resumes and more.

This has led to a reduction in the number of Israelis receiving income support, from 2.9% of the workforce to 1.5%. Presumably, the current crisis of acute unemployment, alongside a large public of young workers whose unemployment quota is over – will push many of them to claim income assurance, and the developments made in the last few years will be overwritten.

During the COVID-19 quarantine period alone, there were approximately 9,500 income support claimants from the Arab sector and approximately 26,800 Jewish claimants. The Employment Service stated that they expected this population to be more difficult to reintegrate into the employment market, adding that "achievements of more than a decade and a half could be hampered if this trend continues."

"Looking at all the young people whose eligibility days are over on May 31, the next time they can file a unemployment claim will only be March 2021, as the economy goes into a deep recession and another wave of COVID-19 may be experienced," says Biton.

"In my opinion, it would be right for the government to consider the possibility of shortening this qualification and waiting period before filing a recurrent unemployment claim, so that those workers can file an unemployment claim as an alternative to the income assurance claim."