Israel is doubling its rent assistance to new immigrants starting next month, its first increase in 15 years.
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Individuals will receive 400 shekels ($103) a month, compared with the current 213 shekels; families will receive 800 shekels a month, up from 400 shekels. The assistance does not factor in family size.
In another change, immigrants can only start receiving the money once they have been in the country eight months.
“We realized that the basket of benefits for immigrants, which includes rent assistance, is insufficient and needs to be augmented to help immigrants settle in,” said Olga Dadon, who is responsible for housing at the Immigrant Absorption Ministry. The change will cost the ministry 60 million shekels a year.
Immigrant Absorption Minister Zeev Elkin admitted that even the new amounts are far from adequate in today's rental market.
“I believe that housing is one of the sore points in absorbing immigrants. Housing prices have skyrocketed and immigrants find this hard to contend with," he told Haaretz.
"The last two years have seen more immigrants than in other years this decade. We have an interest in improving their conditions so that other Jews also immigrate.”
As of this week, the number of immigrants this year stood at 28,100, the highest showing in the past decade. Last year there were 26,500 immigrants, a 32% increase over 2013.
The ministry is also increasing assistance for elderly people living on their own. They currently receive between 800 and 1,400 shekels a month, depending on age and family status. They will now receive an extra 120 to 150 shekels a month, a move that will cost the ministry 30 million shekels a year.
Also, there will be a significant increase for families waiting for public housing, as well as for single-parent families, disabled people, wheelchair-bound people and people suffering from serious illnesses, who are now entitled to 1,250 shekels a month.
These groups will now receive an extra 800 to 1,000 shekels a month. It was also decided to build an additional 1,000 public-housing units for immigrants.
“Housing benefits provided by the Construction [and Housing] Ministry have been deeply eroded in recent years, to the point where is no significant benefit to new immigrants,” said Yonatan Taylor of Nefesh B’Nefesh, a group that facilitates immigration from North America and Britain.
“The Housing Ministry must update its rates for rent assistance, linking them to the [consumer price] index and taking into account family size,” he told the Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs this week.
According to committee chairman Avraham Nagosa, "Such assistance serves as a catalyst in making a decision to immigrate. It helps families get by and serves as a positive signal from the establishment to new immigrants.”