The Bennett-Lapid coalition, if sworn in, will inherit a full plate of difficult domestic decisions which urgently await immediate resolution and will affect the lives of millions of Israelis. Davar compiled a partial list of the first decisions the new ministers may have to make.
Minister of Finance: Budget 2022-2021, alternatives to corona unemployment benefits
Passing a budget: The first task of the Minister of Finance in the next government will be to formulate a state budget for 2021 and 2022, and to pass it in the Knesset. Israel has been operating for a year and a half on a temporary, or “continuing” budget based on the 2019 budget, with unique additions approved for the corona period. For government ministries, this is a crippling reality – halting development plans, creating a lack of manpower, stopping funding for organizations and nonprofit, and hindering the ability to set clear priorities. The passing of the budget is essential for the government to return to normal functioning.
Welfare programs: Another burning task is designing a new welfare safety net for employees and the self-employed starting on July 1, the day when the current program for unemployment benefits expires. After more than a year in which the state supported Israelis who lost their jobs due to the pandemic via ongoing unemployment benefits, a new policy is needed that will encourage the return of hundreds of thousands of unemployed people to work without leaving large sectors of the public behind. The solution formulated should be part of a broad policy of increasing vocational training, stimulating industries in distress, government investment in infrastructure, and projects that will create new jobs with good employment conditions.
Minister of Labor and Welfare: Vocational training, disability benefits and food security
Returning to work: The next Minister of Labor and Welfare will have to deal with the severe unemployment crisis and the return of hundreds of thousands of Israelis to work. Those who will find it particularly difficult to return are the groups that were disadvantaged in the first place: young and inexperienced workers, the elderly, the ultra-Orthodox, Arabs and people with disabilities. The unemployment crisis, combined with the looming expiration of the unemployment safety net created during the pandemic, may turn into a welfare crisis whose signs are already appearing. The incoming minister will have to find a way to prevent the descent toward poverty on the one hand, and to incentivize people who can go to work on the other hand.
It may also be time to think about a more successful future model of dealing with severe crises in the labor market such as the coronavirus, than the current unemployment benefits model by which the outgoing government operated.
Vocational training: Even before the pandemic, labor productivity in Israel was significantly lower than in other OECD countries. The outgoing government has failed to take advantage of the crisis to push and promote large-scale employee training, and the budgets that have been allocated for this have also stalled due to ego-political bickering.
The push for vocational training should be among the department’s key tasks now. It is a dramatic component in the response to the unemployment crisis, as well as demands in the labor market that employers are unable to meet, despite high unemployment.
Food security: Precisely in a period of severe social crisis, the National Food Security Initiative, operating as a pilot in a limited number of localities, had to deal with shortages in its required operating budget. The new minister should demand a much larger budget than what currently exists in the project, map out needs to address a lack of information on the subject, and start running a broad food security program ensuring that not a single person will go hungry in Israel.
Disability benefits: On July 1, the special grant given to recipients disability benefits over the last year and a half will end, following the delay in raising the benefits required by law. The reason for the delay is the lack of a state budget, but until a budget is passed, several months will pass in which the disability benefit will decrease by hundreds of shekels per month.
Minister of Health: Prevent job cuts for doctors
The next Minister of Health will have to find an immediate solution to cutting 600 doctors’ jobs, added to the health system to deal with pandemic. Cutting these jobs has devastating consequences for hospitals: they will be forced to lay off new interns who have been absorbed, especially in the areas of internal medicine and intensive care, or avoid absorbing new interns in all hospital wards. In any case, the workload on hospitals will increase, and the training program of hundreds of future doctors in Israel may also be harmed. The Israeli Medical Association called a one-day strike opposing the job cuts. The solution, even if temporary, will have to be found in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance.
Physicians' jobs are only part of the broader issue of post-corona health system rehabilitation. Hospitals and public health clinics entered the pandemic starved, with severe staff shortages and patients’ beds in the hallway. With the outbreak of COVID-19, they received temporary budget additions that allowed them to deal with the crisis, but these did not translate into long-term investment. Additional beds, doctors, nurses, technicians, radiologists and improved working conditions are needed, and soon.
Minister of Education: Preparations for the summer and the next school year, solution to the crisis of educational psychologists
The education minister’s upcoming calendar includes three critical dates: June 21st and July 1st, the end dates of the school year for elementary and high school – and September 1st, the first day of school for the upcoming year. After a school year where the teachers and students barely met in person, creating huge gaps academically, socially and emotionally, the Ministry of Education will have to find the right way to create frameworks for children and youth during the summer break, in collaboration with the teachers' organizations. At the same time, they will need to pave the way for the next school year.
A critical issue that is waiting for an immediate solution is the struggle of educational psychologists, who are protesting the heavy workload on them following the implementation of the special education reforms. In the last three weeks, psychologists have been shutting down eligibility committees, which determine the placement of students for special education frameworks and services for the next year, in protest of their conditions which include low wages and job shortages. Without an immediate solution, tens of thousands of children will not be able to begin next year with an appropriate educational framework.
Cabinet Ministers: Investigation of the Meron Disaster
A month has passed since the greatest civil disaster in the history of the State of Israel, and despite the demands raised immediately after it, a commission of inquiry has not yet been set up. Although the police have opened a criminal investigation and the State Comptroller has also begun investigating the disaster, the road to a comprehensive investigation must occur through a state-run, independent commission of inquiry, or a body with similar powers. This body must be able to investigate all aspects of the disaster, even at the level of the government decisions that led to it, determine who is responsible for it, and most importantly, outline ways to prevent future disasters.
Cabinet Ministers: Investment in the plight of Arab society
The Bennett-Lapid government, if formed, will be sworn in just a month after violent riots in Arab localities, and after years in which dozens of people have been killed in wars between criminal organizations or by domestic violence.
A government plan formulated by a team of CEOs and offering a broad response to the situation is just waiting to be implemented. Additionally, the government will be required to address many well-known crises of Arab society: poor infrastructure, lack of building space, lack of economic credit and huge gaps in education and employment.
In 2019, a government five-year plan to improve the situation of the Arab and Druze localities was completed, which worked in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance and local authorities, and led to partial improvements in the situation. Alongside immediate coping with inequalities, the government will be required to formulate a new plan and budget, and implement it. Such a move requires a comprehensive vision on the part of the government, and action on the part of the ministers, each in their area of responsibility. The shattered trust can be restored, through actions.