Galit (pseudonym) and her husband are raising their six children in a town in the south of Israel, where unemployment is high. She works at a kindergarten and makes minimum wage, and due to his health issues, her husband only works part time jobs.
"The children's pension is barely adequate for kids' most basic needs", says Galit. If the Finance Ministry's resolution passes, her children will suffer due to the annuity being scaled back. Others to suffer from the cuts could be the elderly, nursing home patients and widows.
Galit is doing the best she can, making sure her children don't miss out on basic products. "Even though we are talking about a relatively small sum, those several thousand shekels that they want to cut – that's food for my kids. This cut is a direct hit for the underprivileged. For us, every shekel counts. We're struggling as it is and now they want to hit us even harder," she claims.
On Sunday the government plans to discuss the proposed budget for 2009. It means to cut approximately $450 million from the budget held by the National Insurance Institute (NII), as well as $22.8 million from programs that it holds for the elderly, the handicapped, and children.
Roughly 16,000 elderly people who live in nursing homes and about 14,000 children will be added to the poverty line by the move, as well as 40,000 widows. According to figures released by the NII, more than 1000 special projects will suffer, including those that have not yet begun. In summation, tens of thousands of children and handicapped persons will be sideswiped by the cut.
20,000 elderly people without allowanceIn Israel, every person who reaches the age of 70 receives an allowance from the NII, regardless of financial situation. Thus, if the Finance Ministry's bid to raise the pension age to 85 passes, thousands of elderly people could suffer. The National Insurance Institute estimates that approximately 20,000 people would stop receiving an NII allowance.
Another possible casualty of the proposed cut are pregnant women, who according to the ministry's plan would receive maternity benefits only for their first child. This move would harm the income of 100,000 women. In addition, the treasury proposed the 14 week maternity leave be cut back to its original length of 12 weeks only.
Sharel Shapira, a worker for NA'AMAT (Movement of working women & volunteers) and a mother of one who is expecting her second child, said that "even now people have started asking themselves if they can afford to have another child. It's a horrible thought, isn't the government supposed to encourage people to have children?"
"We are a young couple and every shekel makes a difference" says Sharel, "baby equipment costs a lot of money. The state is hurting me both as a mother and as a citizen. The maternity leave is so short; the mother has no chance to recover from the birthing process, and also causes a lot of couples to think that hiring a nanny for their child is not as good of an idea as it once was."
Sharel further explained that the proposed cut will cause more hardships for young families, "and the government wonders why so many young people are leaving the country" she lamented.
67-year old Erica Yoel from Jerusalem, a former social worker and a volunteer at the Ken Lazaken (Lit: Yes to the elderly) Association told Ynet: "Me and my husband are really anxious about the proposed cut, we worked all these years and paid insurance and now it's frustrating that we might become a burden on our children. It's not taken into account that old people spend a lot of money on different medications, I had surgery and I pay several hundred shekels a month on medication that is not provided by the uniform benefits package."
Yoel moved to Israel from Romania 35 years ago with her husband and two small children. "We did everything on our own", she said. "We never asked for shekel. Even now I'm just asking that the cut will not be approved, that way we can remain independent. All of our life we paid, and now, we're not asking for favors, only what we deserve".
'Death sentence to welfare'The funds from the National Insurance Institute act as a safety net for social services. They provide aid to a segment of the population that requires social insurance – the elderly, children, endangered youths and the handicapped. Projects aimed at integrating the crippled into society, day care centers for seniors, and projects aimed at helping children who were sexually assaulted are all in danger of being shut down.
Welfare associations have gathered together to appeal against government approval of the proposed cut to the welfare budget. "One example to the cruelty in regards to budget cuts is the 50 percent cut from the different funds of the NII. This act is a death sentence to all welfare development programs.
"This cut will cancel housing projects, rehabilitation projects, purchasing of equipment and more. In addition the budget has many articles that directly affect the caring of the handicapped, not through the welfare programs," says Shimon Tzurieli, secretary general of ILAN – Israeli foundation for handicapped children.
Assistant Director General of YADID Association for Community Empowerment Ran Melamed remarked, "Sadly, we are witnessing a repeat of the 2002 decrees, the difference today is that back then there was financial growth and the needy were promised that they would get to enjoy that as well.
"The only thing that the needy get today is rotten fruits. Even today we find more and more people asking themselves what they should use the money for, buying food or paying the bills or buying school books for their children. Every cut will lead to catastrophic social disaster".