The number of families in need of food assistance ahead of the Jewish holiday season rose by 13 percent from last year, government statistics revealed on Wednesday. Over 1.2 million people required such aid, compared to 1.073 million people last year, the Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry said.
Many of those eligible for assistance do not receive social services or live below the poverty line, but need assistance ahead of the holidays, and by the Social Services Ministry’s estimates, are in middle-to-lower socioeconomic groups and sometimes in distress only temporarily.
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At the same time, there has also been an increase in the number of cases handled by the ministry. According to data obtained by Haaretz last year, 76,917 families were being treated as poverty, employment and financial distress cases. This year, that figure climbed to 87,161 families, representing an increase of roughly 13 percent. Some 124 nonprofit groups that distribute food packages during the holidays have applied to the ministry for funding.
Professionals working in the ministry estimate that the increase in the number of requests is due to the coronavirus crisis. Following the approval of the state budget, the Social Services Ministry announced that for the first time, 110 million shekels will be allocated to food security. But the budget that will be brought before the Knesset for its first reading on Thursday has allocated only 46 million shekels for the program.
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The ministry contends that the rest of the amount – tens of millions of shekels that are expected to go to food distribution nonprofits – will come from other budgetary sources that are not part of the regular yearly state budget. A ministry official said that the ministry has signed an agreement with the Finance Ministry to receive the rest of the funds.
Social Services Minister Meir Cohen said in response to the data: “We are working around the clock to ensure that no one suffers from a [food] shortages or loneliness over the holidays. On the one hand, we have increased support for food nonprofits and a food security program, and on the other hand, we have made sure that older citizens can be hosted in the ministry’s nursing homes for five days during the holidays, and enjoy holiday meals, as well as cultural and recreational activities in the company of the residents.”