Half a Million Israelis Will Lose Social Services if Spending Bill Doesn't Pass, Ministry Warns

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A woman looking through a garbage bin in Be'er Sheva, November 2020.
A woman looking through a garbage bin in Be'er Sheva, November 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Social Affairs Ministry will have to shut down or slash services to some 500,000 people if the Knesset doesn’t pass legislation enabling spending for 2021 to be increased, the ministry warned in an official document submitted to the Finance Ministry.

Such a failure would force it to reduce spending by 2.5 billion shekels ($776 million).

The document lists dozens of programs that would either be closed or sharply curtailed if the budget doesn’t pass. They include aid to bereaved families, treatment for juvenile victims of sexual assault, services to the homeless, day treatment centers for violent men and sex offenders, and programs for the elderly.

In addition, services to people with disabilities would be slashed by about 50 percent; hours devoted to helping tens of thousands of poor families would be cut, as would the material aid they receive; 60 poverty prevention centers would be closed; aid to domestic violence victims would be reduced; and centers for treating alcoholics and drug addicts would be closed.

The Knesset has never approved a budget for either 2020 or 2021, so government spending has been based by law on the 2019 budget. The legislation in question would enable spending next year to be based instead on 2020 spending, including approved outlays over and above the original 2019 budget.

The bill passed the first of three required votes Tuesday night. The Knesset Finance Committee will meet on Sunday to prepare it for the next two votes.

If the bill doesn’t pass, government ministries will have only around 310 billion shekels ($960 million) to spend in 2021 – around 100 billion shekels less than actual government spending in 2020, which totaled 412 billion shekels. Senior Social Affairs Ministry officials said this would result in deep cuts in aid to the people who need it most.

Be'er Sova, a nutritional security center in Be'er Sheva, November 2020.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

“This is exactly where the border between politics and concern for the citizenry lies,” one said. “If political considerations win, 500,000 of the most impoverished people in the country won’t get the help they’re used to. The public needs to know that this is what lies in the balance.”

The ministry currently aids some 1.2 million people. Around 40 percent of them would be adversely affected if the legislation doesn’t pass.

The ministry’s budget consists of four general categories – residential treatment facilities, community services, personnel in municipal welfare departments and ministry staffers. Aside from community services, all the others are inflexible, and no adjustments can be made to them in the short or medium term.

For instance, a child can’t be removed from a dormitory facility midyear, nor can permanent employees of the ministry or municipal welfare departments be fired midyear. Consequently, a 25 percent cut in the ministry’s budget would require community services to be cut by 50 percent.

Senior citizens in need of welfare services are one of the groups that would be badly hurt by such cuts. If the law doesn’t pass, 80 centers providing services to 5,000 senior citizens would be closed, as would 150 “supportive community” programs that help 30,000 seniors remain independent, 175 clubs that provide meals to 6,000 senior citizens, 500 social clubs that serve this community and 150 group therapy centers.

Many programs for children-at-risk would also shut down, including programs to support problematic families; programs to provide both job skills and life skills to 5,000 children in dormitory facilities; programs to help children-at-risk remain in the community; treatment centers for parents and children; temporary shelters for families in crisis due to separation, divorce or domestic violence in which the children don’t live with one of their parents; couples therapy programs; and clubs for children and teens.

Services to about 50 percent of disabled people would also be halted, the ministry said. These include services for both children and adults with developmental disabilities, people with autism, people with cognitive problems, blind people and deaf people. Among them are rehabilitative daycare centers that serve some 2,000 infants and toddlers, after-school programs for some 3,350 children and programs for thousands of disabled senior citizens.

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