Israel Halts Aid Program for Elderly as Legislation Stalls Amid COVID Crisis

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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Tzvia Gottgold, who receives community support through a gov't-funded project to those in need for long-term care, in her home in Holon, November 16, 2020.
Tzvia Gottgold, who receives community support through a gov't-funded project to those in need for long-term care, in her home in Holon, November 16, 2020. Credit: Emil Salman
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

Seemingly simple activities, like going to the pharmacy to buy medicine or to the supermarket to buy food, are impossible tasks for Tzvia Gottgold, a 68-year-old woman from Holon, just south of Tel Aviv. She is unable to move her hands fully and suffers from severe back problems – which led the National Insurance Institute to recognize her as requiring long-term care to perform her daily activities.

As a result, she gets help through a project operated by the Social Affairs Ministry, NII and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee that gives community support to those receiving long-term care. Gottgold receives assistance with buying food and medicine, which are brought to her home, as well as with cleaning and home repairs, and she also gets social support.

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Hundreds of elderly people who require long-term care have been receiving help through the program for the past four years, and next year the program was supposed to be expanded to include hundreds of thousands of those eligible under the law for long-term care. But the government decided to halt the program starting January due to the difficulty in passing legislation because of the political and coronavirus crises.

The program has been operating as a pilot, and the research conducted alongside it showed a 91 percent satisfaction rate among those who received the aid. The program did not cost the government any extra money from the budget. It was paid for at the expense of 2.5 hours from the total number of hours of support these elderly people are entitled to from the NII – these 2.5 hours are exchanged for the program’s services. During the pandemic, this help has become even more critical for people such as Gottgold, who are unable to leave their homes on their own and are considered very high-risk for falling ill with COVID-19.

In order to continue the support for the hundreds of elderly who now receive it and expand the program to hundreds of thousands of other recipients, the Knesset needs to amend the long-term care law.

Senior officials in the NII and Social Affairs Ministry said it is impossible to pass this amendment now since the Knesset is unable to pass any laws not directly related to the coronavirus crisis for political reasons.

As a result, the cities and welfare offices in Kfar Sava, Holon, Ramle, Sakhnin and Arabeh, where the pilot program was running, have been informed that there is no choice but to cancel this support for the elderly. The operators of the program have also informed the hundreds of elderly people in the program, who have become used to receiving this help every week.

Over the past few months, almost no legislation has advanced in the Knesset because of the conflict between Likud and Kahol Lavan. However, laws that both parties agree are important are being advanced – such as the law to allow the opening of hotels in Eilat and at the Dead Sea, or the draft version of the law on legalizing recreational marijuana.

Welfare sources expressed surprise that neither Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli or the director general of the NII, Meir Spiegler, have advanced the legislation necessary for the program to continue. “This is not a political act, this is a program for the neediest,” said one of the program operators on Tuesday. “We turned to everyone, but they don’t care about us, they told us there is no time for it in the Knesset.”

“How can they say it’s not related to the coronavirus? If it’s not connected, then what is? I have no way to leave the house to buy food and medicine, I can barely walk, and I’m at risk. My children don’t live near me, and this program saved me,” said Gottgold. “Instead of helping more during the [coronavirus crisis], they are taking away the biggest help during the hardest period – because they don’t have time in the Knesset for it? This plan is like our hands and feet. I am begging not to cancel it, certainly not during such a difficult time, when we are also cut off from our families.”

The welfare department managers in cities where the program operates are also protesting its cancellation. In a letter they sent this week to Shmuli, Spiegler and the mayors of their cities, they asked to continue the assistance to the elderly needing long-term care. “In the past few years, a significant rise in the life expectancy of senior citizens has taken place, which has increased the need for developing new services,” the letter read.

The pilot program enables services to be provided with a multi-professional approach for elderly people with diminishing capabilities who choose to remain and age in the community, said the welfare department heads. The need to amend the law to add the support within the community program was raised by all the professionals involved over a decade ago. They saw that the “addition of this component to the long-term care law as necessary and logical, and would significantly improve the lives of senior citizens,” the letter read.

The Social Affairs Ministry said to ask the National Insurance Institute for its response, and NII did not comment.

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