Israel to Stop Depriving People Receiving Financial Aid From Family of Welfare Allowances

'There’s no connection between someone’s right to receive support from the state and any assistance his relatives give him,' social affairs minister tells Haaretz.

Nir Kafri

The National Insurance Institute will soon stop depriving people of welfare allowances if they receive financial assistance from their relatives, thanks to a court ruling and a ministerial decision.

Currently, the reductions are so widespread that recipients must often refund large sums of money to the NII.

But in a ruling handed down on Tuesday, the National Labor Court said only the Knesset could decide whether or not this policy should continue, and ordered it to pass legislation settling the question within six months.

The court did not issue any guidelines on what the Knesset should decide, and permitted the NII to maintain its policy while the Knesset deliberates. Moreover, the NII had already begun working on a bill that would leave the current policy in place.

But Haaretz has learned that Social Affairs Minister Haim Katz ordered the institute to draft legislation that would let welfare recipients receive familial assistance alongside their NII stipends.

“There’s no connection between someone’s right to receive support from the state and any assistance his relatives give him,” Katz told Haaretz on Tuesday. “I’ve ordered the NII to formulate legislative recommendations on this matter such that minimal harm will be done to allowance recipients who are aided by their families.”

In its decision, the National Labor Court adopted the view of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed an amicus brief arguing that a policy question of this nature ought to be decided by the Knesset, not by NII bureaucrats. Until now, both the NII and the courts have treated familial assistance as income for purposes of the income support law, even though the law doesn’t explicitly define income to include such assistance.

Tuesday's ruling was handed down in response to four appeals of decisions by regional labor courts on this issue. The court also ordered Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit to give it his opinion in writing within two weeks.

“This is a huge achievement,” said attorney Maskit Bendel of ACRI. ”Currently, the NII’s policy deals a mortal blow to the basic right to live with dignity; therefore, it can be implemented only via primary legislation that meets the conditions set in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty.”

“In our view, as long as the income support benefit isn’t enough to live on with dignity – and it’s doubtful that it’s even enough for survival – assistance from relatives or charities shouldn’t be seen as income that affects eligibility for the benefit,” she added.

In this situation, “benefit recipients rightfully and necessarily make use of any assistance they can obtain,” Bendel said.

Income support benefits are paid to adults with no other source of income, or whose income is lower than a floor set by law. About 100,000 families receive such payments every month.

Ronen (not his real name) used to receive this benefit, totaling 1,700 shekels ($445) a month. After his divorce, his relatives began giving him an additional 2,500 shekels a month to help him afford alimony and child support payments. But about a year after this familial assistance began, the NII said it was ending his income support benefit.

Ronen appealed to the Tel Aviv Labor Court, which sided with the NII. On Tuesday, however, the National Labor Court overturned this decision, ruling that the NII must resume his benefits and also reimburse him for the approximately 18 months during which the benefits stopped.

Nevertheless, the court hasn’t yet ruled on the specifics of the other three appeals.

The NII said it is now working on new legislation regarding whether familial assistance should be treated as income. The issue is “very complex,” said its attorney, Carmit Naor, because the legislation must preserve a balance between helping people and other considerations, such as encouraging them to get off welfare by finding work.