After two and a half years of increasingly heated protests, organizations representing the disabled reached an agreement with the government late Thursday night to increase disability benefits.
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The monthly stipend for the most seriously disabled, those who need constant supervision, will rise to 4,500 shekels a month ($1,275). Those classified as 100 percent disabled and unable to work will see their stipends increase by 1,250 shekels a month, for a monthly total of between 3,800 and 4,050 shekels.
People classified as 60 to 74 percent disabled will receive between 2,100 and 2,400 shekels a month.
The benefits will be increased in four stages, starting in January 2018 and with the final stage coming in January 2021. The increased stipends’ cost to the state will reach an annual 4.2 billion shekels by 2021.
The framework agreement was reached after a day of marathon negotiations that started at 2 P.M. and lasted 12 hours. The negotiations were held in the offices of the Histadrut labor federation in Tel Aviv.
The breakthrough was made with the help of Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn, Coalition Chief David Bitan (Likud) and the head of the National Economic Council, Avi Simhon. MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) also participated in the agreement being reached.
The agreed increases are much larger than those originally proposed by Simhon and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and will also affect more people.
They are similar to the proposal made by Prof. Yaron Zelekha, who was appointed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to study the issue.
The disability stipend, which was 2,239 shekels in 2000, had risen only slightly in 17 years, to 2,342 shekels. As a result, it has eroded by 42 percent compared to the average wage.
But the parties agreed that the allowance will now be linked to the average wage, which means it will continue to rise every year. That was the practice until 2000, when the link with the average wage was canceled and the allowance was linked instead to the Consumer Price Index. As a result, over the last decade, poverty among the disabled has risen by four times as much as it has among the general population, according to a National Insurance Institute study.
The parties also reached an agreement over how the monthly allowance is to be reduced for those disabled persons who work. Currently, the government reduces the allowance if the disabled person earns more than 2,800 shekels a month, and cancels it completely if their salary reaches 7,000 shekels a month. But under the new agreement, those earning up to 4,300 shekels a month would retain their full disability allowance, though this will also be changed in a number of stages. The amount will be raised to 4,000 shekels a month in January 2018, and a year later to 4,300 shekels.
In addition, after studying whether this incentive for the disabled to seek employment is a success, the government will consider raising the amount to 5,300 shekels a month in the future.
The rate of employment for the disabled in Israel is only 21 percent, compared to 34 percent among other developed countries, though 70 percent of disabled workers leave their jobs within a year. Another 75 million shekels will be budgeted to encourage employers to hire the disabled.
The Histadrut announced that the government had agreed to a number of other changes in disability benefits, adding 150 million shekels to the budget for stipends for disabled children, and another 300 million shekels for disabled seniors to continue to receive disability payments. Today, when a disabled person reaches retirement age and is eligible for a pension from the NII, they are forced to choose whether to continue to receive their disability payments or accept the state pension instead.
Both the Histadrut and organizations representing the disabled praised the agreement. Alex Friedman, the main organizer of the demonstrations and the head of a nonprofit advocacy organization for the disabled called Disabled is Not Half a Person, called it “a joyous day for Israeli society, a day in which society became more equal and healthier.”
Nevertheless, some disabled activists oppose the agreement and announced their intention to continue to block roads nationwide until the allowance is raised to the level of the minimum wage – currently 5,000 shekels a month.
Nissenkorn said the agreement “made social history.”
“We dramatically improved the economic situation of the disabled,” he said. “The organizations representing the disabled showed determination and responsibility in their struggle for social justice.”
Gilon said the agreement was a major achievement, even if the disabled did not achieve everything they had hoped for. Bitan also called it a major achievement, saying it both raises the allowances and will allow the disabled to make a dignified living without losing their disability payments.
Earlier Thursday, before the agreement was reached, organizations representing the disabled continued to block major roads, including Ibn Gabirol Street in Tel Aviv and Route 4 north of Haifa.