Israeli Panel to Recommend Lower Disability Benefits as Netanyahu Breaks Promise

'The committee is missing our essential demand to live with a modicum of dignity,' one leader of the disabled says

Disability groups protesting the low monthly allowance for the disabled, in Ramat Gan, August 22, 2016.
Tomer Appelbaum

A committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to consider increased allowances for the disabled will recommend a much lower rise than a previous committee did, breaking promises by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to significantly raise benefits.

The Netanyahu-appointed panel is headed by Prof. Avi Simhon, chairman of the National Economic Council. It recommended a 500-shekel ($142) increase to 3,200 shekels a month, while the previous committee, headed by Prof. Yoram Zelekha, suggested a 1,200-shekel increase to 4,000 shekels a month.

The Simhon committee is also set to recommend that the increase apply only to people with at least a 75-percent disability defined as poor and without a family, whereas the Zelekha committee proposed that all handicapped people be eligible.

The Simhon committee left open the definition of “poor,” so it is unclear how many handicapped people will receive the higher allowance.

Handicapped people who earn more than 4,200 shekels a month will have their benefits cut, according to the Netanyahu-appointed committee, but according to the Zelekha committee, such a cut would apply only to disabled people who currently earn more than 5,000 shekels a month.

According to a source familiar with the details, the Simhon committee has suggested earmarking 4 billion shekels for raising benefits to the disabled in 2018, and another 3 billion shekels or so for the Labor, Social Affairs and Social Services Ministry over five years for additional services. “We want to help the neediest disabled first,” the source said.

The new recommendations need the approval of the prime minister and the finance minister to go into effect. Officials close to Kahlon said the committee had not yet handed him its findings.

The Zelekha committee’s findings were presented last month to Netanyahu, who rejected them and appointed the new committee. Kahlon and Haim Katz, the labor, social affairs and social services minister, approved all the Zelekha committee’s findings.

“If these are the findings, we’ll fight them in the cabinet and in the Knesset . We think that the allowance should be equal to the minimum wage,” Katz told Haaretz.

Zelekha, a former accountant general at the Finance Ministry, told Haaretz that the Simhon recommendations were “the ugliest form of swinish capitalism, from the same policy leaders who doubled housing prices, brought down GDP and created a lost generation of young people.”

About a week ago, four organizations of the disabled appealed to the Supreme Court against the finance and labor ministers and the National Insurance Institute. The appeal said the authorities were busy establishing committees and appointing experts and endlessly putting off decisions, “leading to ongoing disregard for the disabled and trampling their dignity underfoot, as individuals and as a community.”

As one of the leaders of the disabled, Alex Friedman, put it, “The committee is missing our essential demand to live with a modicum of dignity.” He said he looked forward to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the matter.

Over the past 16 years, allowances for the disabled have eroded compared with all economic indexes, among them the average wage, against which disabled allowances have eroded by 42 percent.

There are 880,000 disabled people in Israel; 50,000 are in wheelchairs, 24,000 are vision-impaired and 15,000 are hearing-impaired. Around 190,000 of Israeli disabled people are defined as 100 percent handicapped and unable to work.