Israeli Treasury to Finally Make Good on Coronavirus Grants for Disabled

Government agreed to raise disability allowances in 2018, but lack of state budget hindered implementation. Grants are meant to fulfill overdue promise, but critics say it still amounts to a reduction

Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron
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A disabled person wearing a mask during the coronavirus pandemic in Tel Aviv, May 31, 2020.
A disabled person wearing a mask during the coronavirus pandemic in Tel Aviv, May 31, 2020.Credit: Eyal Toueg
Lee Yaron
Lee Yaron

The Finance Ministry announced Wednesday that it would authorize the spending of 940 million shekels ($275.9 million) for one-time grants to people who get disability allowances. The grant will be transferred to 261,000 people from the emergency budget for coping with the coronavirus.

After the protests by the disabled in 2018, the government agreed to raise the disability allowances by 4.3 billion shekels in four increments by 2021, via an amendment to the National Insurance Institute Law. The next raise had been due in January, but the treasury had said it couldn’t follow through because there was no state budget. The disabled complained that the state was reneging on its agreement, and even petitioned the High Court of Justice on the issue. The treasury said that since it couldn’t codify in law the raises it had planned, it would transfer the money as one-time grants until a budget was passed.

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This grant is identical to what the disabled were meant to get after the third increment, and will thus raise the basic monthly allowance from 3,321 shekels a month to 3,511 shekels. Before the amendment to the law in February 2018, the basic disability allowance was 2,350 shekels.

The amount of the grant per person varies by the type of allowance, the disability ratio assigned to the person and the number of months he or she was eligible in 2020. This can mean hundreds to thousands of shekels more per person, that will be paid in two payments; the first is be transferred this month for the first 10 months of 2020, and the second in December for the remaining months.

Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and Social Affairs Minister Itzik Shmuli had repeatedly declared that they would observe all agreements and make sure the payments were made. In response, the organization The Disabled Aren’t Half a Person and its founders, Alex Friedman and Hanan Tal, petitioned the High Court against the state for not upholding its commitment. The court rejected the state’s request to dismiss the petition and scheduled a hearing for December. Friedman and Tal have asked that the petition remain pending until the law is fulfilled in full, especially given the country’s turbulent political and economic situation.

The Finance Ministry said, “To help the disabled population at this time, and as an alternative to the second increment of the disability allowances, Finance Minister Yisrael Katz decided to release a one-time assistance grant through the sequential state budget.” The minister added, “I’ve made sure that the issue of funding the disability allowances be made a top priority for the government.”

Shmuli also issued a statement saying, “We promised the disabled public that we would raise the disability allowances and I’m proud that together with the Finance Ministry we were able to achieve this at a time when it’s needed more than ever.”

Friedman said in response that “After lengthy negotiations, and the approval of the cabinet and the Knesset, we are happy to reach the final step in implementing the 2020 increment in the Disability Law in accordance with the outline presented by our organization.” Eyal Cohen and Naor Lavi, who have been leading the struggle for the disabled, said, “We hope that the procrastination will not continue and the payment will actually be made as agreed.”

The Meretz faction, which had petitioned the High Court with a demand that the government raise the allowances, said in response, “This is a cut in the disability allowance disguised as a grant. The raise in disability allowance as agreed on in 2017 would have led to a steady increase in the allowance, and as such the grant becomes a de facto reduction.”

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