A group representing the heads of municipal social welfare departments in Arab communities petitioned the High Court of Justice on Wednesday, to challenge the formula the state uses to fund local welfare services around the country.

Currently, in order to receive social welfare funding from the Social Affairs Ministry, local governments are required to fund 25 percent of their welfare budget themselves. As a result, the petitioners, who were joined by the Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, argue that local governments in poor communities - as most Arab communities are - cannot meet the ministry's 25 percent requirement; therefore they lose out on the state funds. The formula also makes it more difficult to hire more social workers in their local welfare departments, the petitioners say.

The petitioners claim that the current approach does not properly take into account the low socioeconomic status of poor localities, and thus prevents these local governments from providing proper social welfare services to residents.

Emil Sem'an, who heads the forum of welfare department directors in Arab communities, said the high court petition was only filed after years of discussions with the Social Affairs Ministry failed to resolve the issue. "The current funding formula perpetuates the disparities between the Arab and Jewish populations in the country, and between well-off communities and economically weak ones," he said.

Ruth Carmi of the Reform movement's Israel Religious Action Center said the current funding approach not only perpetuates the disparities, but even exacerbates them. "The state has left us no option but to bring the matter as far as the High Court of Justice, as it did not see fit to change the funding method, despite a state comptroller's report that warned of existing problems and despite declarations by the social affairs minister himself regarding the inequality inherent in it."