The government unanimously approved Sunday a proposal by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Welfare Minister Haim Katz to allocate NIS 1.45 billion to raise disability pensions starting next month.
The decision still needs to pass in the Knesset's Finance Committee, which needs to approve the additional funding.
The bill will also be brought to the Knesset for approval as a government legislative proposal, and the Finance Ministry is working to bring it to a first reading vote on Monday.
This is the first stage of an agreement signed with representatives of some of the groups of disabled protesters. The additional funds will allow the National Insurance Institute to prepare to pay out increased benefits starting January, in accordance with government commitments.
In addition, budgeting for the next stages of the agreement will be brought to the government's approval in the coming month as part of overall discussions regarding the 2019 state budget.
"We're a government that does great things in the social field," Netanyahu said after the decision's approval. "We are bringing a massive funds increase, the likes of which hasn't been seen in dozens of years. It is a welcome step."
Kahlon added the agreement was a "correction of a historical wrong to a population that deserves this money, a population whose benefits haven't been updated in many years. It wasn't an easy journey, but I'm glad we remedied it."
The increase to disability benefits will be done as part of Welfare Minister Haim Katz's government bill proposal, which will be adjusted to fit the current budgetary framework. It will also include 75,000 elderly people with disabilities, who were not initially part of the agreement signed in September. In addition, NIS 50,000 will be added to disabilities for the blind.
The bill is expected to be approved Sunday when the Ministerial Legislation Committee convenes. Katz welcomed the intra-governmental agreement, saying, "I'm pleased I was able to convince the government increasing the benefits of elderly disabled people and the blind cannot be skipped."
The bill and increased budget, however, make no reference to the further benefit increases agreed upon with representatives of the disabled organizations. Those same organizations—which were party to the original agreement reached with the government this past September—are now split following the government's decision to raise benefits.
Chairperson of the "Disabled Protest Headquarters" Naomi Moravia welcomed the decision and said, "We are positive that the issues of incremental raises and linkage with the average wage will conclude as we expect when the bill is prepared by the Labor and Welfare Committee for its second and third readings."
Chairman of the "Disabled, Not Half a Person" organization Alex Friedman, however, was far more combative. "We wish to express our unequivocal objection to the agreement and consider it a breach of the deal that was led by Histadrut Labor Federation Chairman Avi Nissankorn," Friedman said.
"Concern for the disabled elderly is well-placed and important, but including them in the NIS 4.2 billion framework was not part of the agreement and will significantly reduce the agreed-upon addition to the benefit, thereby rendering it irrelevant considering the high cost of living. The government must honor its agreements," he concluded.
Chairman of the Meretz party's parliamentary group MK Ilan Gilon, who submitted a bill seeking to raise disability benefits to minimum wage levels, responded by saying, "The compromise agreement we signed includes raising benefits to NIS 4,500 in four increments with an NIS 4.2 billion budgetary framework. Any other decision constitutes an attempt by the government and Finance Ministry to dissolve and abdicate the agreement."
"So long as the agreement is not enacted in full, including all of its articles, I will consider it to have been breached and plan accordingly, which may include going back to the streets. Raising disability benefits is righting a perpetuated wrong against a quarter of a million Israeli citizens with disabilities," Gilon said.
Echoing his sentiment, disabled organizations have threatened to take back to the country's streets and roads if the agreement is not passed in the Knesset by December 31.
Representatives of the organizations objecting to new agreement claim they have worked out an alternative deal with Finance Ministry Kahlon, in a meeting he held with four of them last week. They further maintain Kahlon promised them as part of the new agreement to raise benefits to a higher sum than was approved by the government, and in a smaller number of increments than contained in the September agreement.