Netanyahu expects Israel's 2021 budget to be passed in February

JERUSALEM, Oct 17 (Reuters) - Israel’s budget for 2021 will likely be passed in February, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.

Israel’s economy has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and is expected to contract in 2020 for the first time in nearly two decades, with unemployment now above 11%.

In the wake of three elections held since April 2019, Israel is still using a version of the 2019 budget, although lawmakers have approved more than 140 billion shekels ($42 billion) in state aid to help businesses and households hurt by government-imposed COVID-19 restrictions.

“The government will present the 2020 budget soon,” Netanyahu said at a news conference. “This will get us through this year and will give us breathing space to pass the 2021 budget. From what I understand from the finance minister, this should take us until February (to complete),” Netanyahu said.

Finance Minister Israel Katz also said the 2021 budget would be ratified by parliament in February. He added that the 2020 budget, which must be approved by the end of December, would be 411 billion shekels.

Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron has urged Netanyahu’s cabinet to pass the 2021 budget as soon as possible to help the economy recover, as has Netanyahu’s senior coalition partner, Defence Minister Benny Gantz.

$1 = 3.3755 shekels Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Steven Scheer and Pravin Char