Yesh Atid ministers announced at a press conference held in Beersheba on Monday that the cabinet will increase the budget of the nutritional security program in NIS 30 million ($8.5 million), so that during 2014, NIS 230 million ($65.7 million) will be allocated to the program.
The sum constitutes 10% of the amount that the Finance Ministry deducted from stipends, but it enables the distribution of 75,000 more hot meals to children in schools. Up until now, the school lunch program has served 145,000 students.
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As part of the program's work plan, NIS 110 million ($31.5 million) will be allocated to the hot food program, which is to include the distribution of hot meals to some 74,000 children and the subsidizing of meals for 82,000 children from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
NIS 30 million ($8.5 million) will be used to supply meals to Holocaust survivors, youth at risk, the elderly, and the severely disabled at after-school-programs and supported facilities. The rest of the budget, NIS 90 million ($25.7 million), will be used to support 24,000 disadvantaged families by transferring funds that will be allotted to non-profit organizations that supply food and to the purchase of magnetic cards for those families.
Finance Minister Yair Lapid said at the conference: "The step we take today will allow for 100,000 more hot meals for those that need them the most. That isn't enough, and will probably never be enough. But we will expand the assistance to those who really need it, because that is the true test of a humane society."
The minister explained that the move will be carried out starting from next month: "This program will also produce jobs and also help the parents who work daily. Our job is to make sure that there won't be even one hungry child in Israel. If more resources will be needed, we will find and bring them."
Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen said: "We are committed to finding the (weakened) populations, affecting them and empowering them. The Ministry of Welfare and Social waves the flag of human empowerment. The more we empower the disadvantaged populations the more it will benefit the Israeli society." Cohen promised that thousands of Bedouin children and those from populations at risk will be added to those who benefit from the program.
Cutbacks and plans for the future
In July 2012, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Welfare Minister Moshe Kahlon announced the allocation of NIS 100 million ($28.6 million) in 2013 to deal with the food security problem among the disadvantaged populations. However, the early elections that year put those plans on hold and the budget was ultimately not transferred as promised.
In May 2013, after the establishment of the current government, Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen announced the allocation of NIS 200 million ($57.1 million) for the program in question in the 2014 budget, and now, as noted, they declared that the program is to be expanded.
The program in its current state raises some serious questions. In the poverty report published by the National Insurance Institute last year it was noted that in 2012, there were 1,754,700 people living in poverty in Israel, among them 817,000 children.
Another NII report published in May 2013 predicted that the government's economic measures in the 2013-2014 budget that included the increase of the rate of Value Added Tax and resulted in cuts in child benefits – will push 90,000 people, including 44,0000 children, below the poverty line.
The sharp cuts of almost NIS 3 billion ($857,000) in child allotments alone could increase in 3% the number of poverty-stricken people the country. The budget for the new program constitutes less than 10% of the amount cut off from allotments.
It is further unclear why a large amount of the funds is allocated to voluntary sectors and not transferred directly to underprivileged populations through magnetic cards or through existing infrastructure of government offices, a move that could save some of the costs. Many experts believe that the answer to solving problem of poverty is in raising low allotments and not in food distribution.
How widespread is the phenomenon of nutritional insecurity? A comprehensive study done by the NII in 2012 of 5,600 families, found that only 81% of the families Israel live with full nutritional security. About 8.3% of the families live with minor nutritional security, meaning their family food budget is a subject of daily concern, but they do not, in reality, save money on food; no less than 10.6% of the families feel nutritionally insecure, meaning they spare on food and purchase only the cheapest foods.
Some 11% of these families – meaning a percentage of the families in the population – persistently feel a minor but constant feeling of hunger due to not buying enough food.
A few weeks ago, the welfare minister announced the allocation of NIS 60 million ($17 million) in tenders for food NGOs, and announced in the press conference held Tuesday that the tender is cancelled. The money will be transferred within the framework of subsidies to the non-profit organizations.
The current program constitutes another step forward in the government policy on the issue. Up until now, no direct budgets have been allocated to the treatment of the nutrition security issue. In 2008, after a petition was filed, a committee appointed by former social affairs minister Knesset Member Isaac Herzog, ruled that the State is to take responsibility of the issue and run a program for nutritional security for disadvantaged populations, but it was not implemented.
A year later, the Finance Ministry and Welfare Ministry reached an agreement concerning the State budget and in 2011, a tender was published for the establishment of an infrastructure for the collection and distribution of food, that was won by the non-profit organizations "Leket Israel" and "Latet" but this tender was frozen as well.