Israel Green-lights Ambitious Food Security Program to Fight Hunger

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz implements long-gestating plan, which aims to aid over 400,000 Israelis living below the poverty line.

Olivier Fitoussi

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz is implementing a long-gestating program aimed at providing nutritional security for the estimated 110,000 Israeli families (over 400,000 individuals) who are living below the poverty line and suffer from inadequate food supply.

Eligibility for the National Food Security Program, which was developed and first submitted to the cabinet in 2014, is to be determined based on the income of families close to the poverty line, after subtracting necessary expenses such as rent and utilities.

Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz.
Emil Salman

If the remaining amount is less than that needed for the household’s basic food needs, each family will be eligible for a subsidy amounting to an average of 320 shekels ($85) a month.

The recommendations of the National Nutritional Security Council have been languishing on the desk of the Social Affairs Ministry since 2014.

This week, however, Katz approved a multiagency program that is set to include the ministries of agriculture, finance, health and environmental protection, together with major food charities.

The council’s recommendations have been accepted in principle, but the price tag is still to be finalized.

The council has estimated the annual cost of the program at around 500 million shekels.

“The basic requirement for nutritional security cannot be dependent on budgetary considerations,” Katz said Monday.

“There is an opportunity to create a system, at minimal cost and with maximum effect, that will guarantee food on the table throughout the year for low-income families,” the minister added.

The first meeting on the issue is to be held in May. Convened by Eliezer Yablon, the director general of the Social Affairs Ministry, attendees are expected to include his counterparts from the relevant ministries, as well as NNSC chairman Prof. Dov Chernikovsky and representatives from farmers’ associations, prominent food charities and Super-Sol, the country’s largest supermarket chain.

Haaretz has learned that the council is demanding that the Social Affairs Ministry allocate some 100 million shekels to the plan in 2016, which would pay for food vouchers or food boxes for needy families, as well as collecting food that would otherwise be thrown out.

It is also recommending that the food aid begin with single-parent families and families with large numbers of children suffering from food insecurity, whose numbers it estimates at between 20,000 and 25,000 families.

“I welcome the decision of the Social Affairs Ministry to begin implementing the food security program,” Chernikovsky told Haaretz Monday.

Chernikovsky said the food collection program, which calls for gathering food from farmers that would otherwise go to waste and giving it to needy families, will eventually result in amounts of food that are worth over three times the cost of that part of the program.

Hundreds of thousands of foods, worth billions of shekels, are thrown out every year in Israel.

The state already has programs for feeding needy schoolchildren, Holocaust survivors and the elderly that will not be part of the new council program.

The NNSC was established in 2011 after a law passed in the Knesset and put forward by the civil society organization Yedid – the Association for Community Empowerment.