New Budget Will Leave Disabled Israelis Living in Poverty

Representatives of organizations for the disabled decry the paltry 100-shekel increase in allowances in 2016–17 budget.

 Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, in October 2015.
Michal Fattal

The new government budget will raise disability allowances by a mere 100 or so shekels ($26) a month, Haaretz has learned, despite an election pledge by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon to substantially boost these benefits.

Organizations representing disabled Israelis decried the amount of the proposed increase, with some of their leaders calling it “a mockery.”

The current monthly disability allowance is 2,341 shekels ($625) a month — less than half the minimum wage and well below the poverty line. According to new figures released by the National Insurance Institute (NII) and obtained by Haaretz, 154,000 people subsist entirely on this allowance without receiving any other assistance from the state.

Those who do receive additional aid get on average another 301 shekels ($80) a month.

“Raising these benefits so that they achieve parity with minimum wage is the main item on the agenda of disabled people in Israel,” said officials from various organizations for disabled people on Friday.

In the Arrangements Law, which accompanies the state budget, the Treasury stipulated that in the 2017-2018 budget there would be an $80 million increase in disability benefits, but did not specify how this sum would be divided among different groups of disabled people. If it is divided equally among the 232,000 recipients of allowances, each person would receive 107 shekels more a month. If the increase is allocated only to the 187,000 people who are totally unable to work, the increment would come to 133 shekels a month.

Increases in disability allowances lag significantly behind the increase in average income. The latter has risen from 6,242 shekels a month in 2000 to 9,464 shekels a month as of January 2016. But disability benefits — which amount to half the minimum wage and far below the poverty line — were last raised in 2001. No adjustments have been made since then, other than for inflation.

Minimum wage in Israel is currently 4,825 shekels a month.

The rise in the cost of living over the last 15 years is acutely felt by Nissim Dehan, 52, from Yavne. Dehan, who is completely disabled, suffers from a debilitating joint condition and requires medication costing 930 shekels every three months. “Everything is getting more expensive yet we don’t get additional money,” laments Dehan.

Last May a bill that would make disability benefits on par with minimum wage was proposed by MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz). It was narrowly defeated by one vote, with 44 supporters and 45 opponents.

Currently, MK Nava Boker (Likud) is trying to promote a bill calling for a doubling of these benefits to 4,650 shekels a month. The proposal, signed by 82 Knesset members, was submitted in March but Finance Minister Kahlon rejected it, claiming there was no budgetary source for financing it.

Haaretz has learned that two weeks ago MK Boker met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who passed the issue on to be examined by the National Economic Council, headed by Avi Simchon.

A committee headed by the director general of the NII will recommend to Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz and Finance Minister Kahlon how to allocate the supplement to the various disabled beneficiaries.

The NII urged organizations representing disabled people to submit proposals regarding the allocation. These organizations have called for an equitable distribution among all disabled people, but sharply criticized the small size of the proposed increase.

The NII had a budgetary surplus of 3.2 billion shekels at the end of 2015. The institute has additional cumulative surpluses from earlier years, totalling more than 7 billion shekels a year. These amounts are intended for use by the Institute for the benefit of the insured.

The Finance Ministry had this to say: “Within the current budget, a further 300 million shekel will be allocated in 2017. There is no decision yet as to how this will be distributed. The NII has issued a call which will allow groups representing the disabled to propose ways to distribute these funds. After the public’s comments are received a decision will be made regarding allocation.”