Katz, Treasury playing blame game over disability benefits delay
Welfare Minister claims he was informed by Treasury future increments in benefits will not be included in governmental bill; 'I refuse to side with those deceiving the disabled,' he says; Disabled Protest Headquarters chairperson: 'They participated in disabled people's brutal rape.'
Katz further maintained that Treasury Director-General Shai Babad notified him Sunday that the third and fourth increments to raise benefits and link them with the average wage will not be part of the governmental bill on the matter, in contravention of the agreement reached with disabled protest organizations in September 2017, and the promise Katz was given to do so, pursuant to which he voted in favor of passing the 2019 budget last week.
In response, the disabled organizations' representatives used exceedingly fiery rhetoric, and said, "Neither the Iranian threat nor tunnels are the danger, but we are, the ticking time bomb you should be fearing. Our wrath will descend upon you, the Israeli government, and set the country on fire. The approved executive decision is the disabled people's brutal rape."
Katz also explained his decision to bow out of a planned meeting with disabled representatives, Finance Minister Kahlon of Kulanu and the head of the Knesset's Labor and Welfare Committee Eli Alaluf, also of Kulanu. "I didn't want to fight with Kahlon. I refuse to be on the side of those lying to the disabled, however," he said.
Following Katz's decision, representatives of disabled organizations staged a protest outside his Shoham home Sunday evening, as part of which they declared their intention to remain there "until further notice" and intermittently block the entrance to the building.
Katz announced that in light of his disagreements with the Treasury over the governmental bill, he intended to present Wednesday at the Welfare Committee the framework to raise disability benefits based on MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz)'s private sponsored bill.
Gilon's bill includes all of the increments previously promised to the disabled, as well as linkage to the average wage. No vote will take place on the bill, however. Katz added that if the government did not uphold its commitments to the disabled, he will leave the committee's debate.
The embattled minister further asserted that the Treasury was attempting to pass the benefit increase through the Arrangements Law, thereby skirting its promises to the disabled.
Disabled representatives who attended a meeting with Kahlon Sunday, however, said the finance minister had told them all of the funds promised have already been transferred from the Treasury to the Welfare Ministry, and that Katz was holding back progress.
'Every letter and comma was approved—but only allegedly'
While the Treasury and Welfare Ministry were busy shifting blame between them for the delay in raising benefits—which should have already been raised two weeks ago—the disabled organizations themselves are unsure who is to blame.
While "Disabled Panthers" activists are the ones who staged the protest outside Katz's home, for instance, the "Disabled Protest Headquarters" are blaming Kahlon for the delay.
"The runaround the Israeli government gave people with disability—spearheaded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Kahlon—will be studied in history lessons next to the term 'Machiavellian,'" said the latter organization's chairperson Naomi Moravia.
"After long months of heroic struggles out in the field, negotiations commenced and an agreement was reached, every letter and comma of which was approved by both the prime minister and the (Treasury's) head of the budgets department—but only allegedly," she accused.
"In one cynical, capitalist pig, neoliberal stroke of the dirtiest variety, a group of 330,000 people with disabilities were led to believe that the oppressive, degrading benefits of the past 15 years were coming to an end," Moravia continued.
"But then, it was precisely the parties that raced all the way to the coalition under the banner of being 'social' that betrayed and trampled with a jack-booted heel the golden opportunity that fell in their laps to right a historic wrong. They participated in the brutal rape of the disabled," she concluded.
The "Disabled, Not Half a Person" organization—also party to the September agreement with the government—reacted more moderately. "We're pleased the bill will be discussed by the Labor and Welfare Committee on Wednesday and hope we are nearing the end of this saga, which does not respect the disabled," the organization's chairman Alex Friedman said.
The Finance Ministry commented, "As part of approving the state's 2019 budget this past Thursday, the government reached a decision to increase disability benefits by NIS 2.15 billion. The government's decision constitutes the first official and binding decision to mention specific sums, and to include earmarking the requisite budgets."