Israel Might Cancel Benefits for Single Mothers Who Work and Study

Israel has lessened the number of hours single mothers are permitted to study and work and still receive a subsistence allowance, justifying move on the fact that few took advantage of the benefits – after gov't failed to inform the public

A woman walks with her children in Ashdod, Israel, 2017.
Ilan Assayag

The Israeli government may cancel a program that provides basic subsistence allowances to single mothers who work and study. The government has not made such benefits well known, putting the program in jeopardy of being shut down due to a small number of those who take advantage of the benefits.

The law providing a minimum basic subsistence allowance originally stated that any single mother who was studying for a college degree, or any other academic studies – whether full or part-time – would no longer be eligible for the allowance. 

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The law was changed in 2008, exempting single mothers and allowing them to study for a college degree and continue to receive their allowances.

But the new rules require them to appear weekly at an employment office and accept any job offers given. As most of these jobs offered by the Employment Service conflicted with their academic studies, the new law made it almost impossible for single mothers to receive benefits. In 2015, only 15 out of 20,000 single mothers received the basic allowance.

After a battle by Rabbis for Human Rights and MK Merav Ben Ari (Kulanu) in the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee, the Finance and Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services ministries submitted new regulations in February, which cancelled the requirement to appear at the employment office every week. It also lowered the required number of hours mothers could work and study, while maintaining their benefits, to 30 hours a week. The committee agreed that if a large number of women would take advantage of the changes in 2018, the new rules would remain in effect – however if not enough women signed up then the number of hours required would revert to 36 per week. 

The changes in regulations were never published by any government body and no specific efforts were ever made to make the information public. In fact, until recently, the regulations appeared on the website of the National Insurance Institute under the category of: “Who is not entitled to an allowance.” Only after a complaint from the nonprofit groups Rabbis for Human Rights and Women Lawyers for Social Justice was this corrected.

Rabbi Idit Lev of Rabbis for Human Rights said: “After years of struggle, regulations were enacted that allow [single mothers] to study – but since then no action has been taken to inform them of this right."

Lev added, "The information is in an inaccessible form on the National Insurance Institute website, and women who go to the [NII] branches come back with incorrect information. The actions of the government institutions prevents [the women] from escaping poverty.”

Ben Ari said: “The basic right of higher education for those who receive a basic subsistence allowance may be revoked for them just because many are not aware of it. This is another case that can bring about the canceling of a right just because of a lack of awareness and a lack of appropriate publication.” 

The National Insurance Institute responded: “When the regulations took effect, the information was published on our website. A few days ago, a nonprofit organization approached us with a request to highlight the publication on the site. We revised the publication and it will be highlighted in the next few days.” The NII said it will individually inform those receiving the allowance about the changes if the number of hours required is increased back to 36.