Israel Backs Off of Canceling Aid Program for Elderly, and Now Even Plans to Expand It

Pilot program providing support for hundreds of elderly people will be expanded to 250,000 people following Haaretz report

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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A caregiver walks with an elderly man in Jerusalem.
A caregiver walks with an elderly man in Jerusalem. Credit: Emil Salman
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The government has backed off of canceling a program providing community support to those receiving long-term care, which has helped hundreds of elderly people, and will expand it to include some 250,000 people eligible for a long-term care allowance.

In November, the National Insurance Institute and the Social Affairs Ministry decided to terminate the program in January, saying that continuing and expanding the program would require additional legislation – at a time when lawmakers are not bringing forward bills that are not directly related to the coronavirus because of the rift between coalition partners Likud and Kahol Lavan.

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After Haaretz reported on the plan to halt the program last month, Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli said he would not accept the decision by his professional staff and continue the program.

Instead of amending the law, Shmuli and the National Insurance Institute have now decided to continue of the program by implementing changes to the national insurance regulations. The new regulations will be submitted to Shmuli for signing and to the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee for its approval next week. This does not require the approval of the full Knesset, which is expected to dissolve itself in two weeks.

If the new regulations are approved, the program will be offered to all elderly people receiving long-term care starting in January. “I am pleased that after great efforts, we are able not only to preserve the important project, but to expand it, too,” said Shmuli.

Haaretz reported last month that the National Insurance Institute and Social Affairs Ministry had informed the directors of the program, which was run for the past four years as a pilot program, that it would come to an end. The program was considered highly successful, with research showing a 91-percent satisfaction rate among those who received the aid.

The program did not cost the government any extra money from the budget, as it was paid for at the expense of two and a half hours from the total number of hours of support these elderly people are entitled to from the government agency. The program provided beneficiaries with assistance with buying food and medicine, which are brought to their homes, as well as with cleaning and home repairs, and rides to social activities and other support.

During the pandemic, this help has become even more critical for people who are unable to leave their homes on their own and are considered very high-risk for developing serious symptoms of COVID-19.

The explanatory notes to the new regulations state: “The contribution to the members of the pilot [program] was great, in [providing] a sense of security, in having an independent life, and in making it easier for their children.” The participants were said to have formed deep, personal relationships with program coordinators who arranged the various services.

Tzvia Gottgold, a 68-year-old woman from Holon, who spoke to Haaretz last month about her difficulties in carrying out simple tasks, said on Friday that she was happy and excited that “we have succeeded in canceling this decision.” Gottgold said she was very afraid that she would be left without the aid from the program and didn’t know how she would be able to get by on her own. “There are people in much worse condition than me, who can now get help, which is especially important during this period of the coronavirus," she said.

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