Shalom Life | September 13, 2014

Nearing High Holidays, Impoverished Israelis' Request for Aid Surges

Food aid programs struggle to meet rising demand from Israeli poor

By: Omri Efraim

Published: September 11th, 2014 in Business » Israel

As the high holidays approach, Israel's largest charities have reported an increase in the number of those seeking aid by dozens of percentage points in comparison to the same period in 2013 while Ynet learned that funds promised to go toward food security in Israel have not yet been transferred to the appropriate organizations.

Angel Musikant, a 70-year-old resident of Rehovot, is one of those feeling the difficult effects of the current aid crunch. Musikant's income support amounts to NIS 2,500 every month – earnings which leave him in a constant struggle for survival.

"Every day is worse and I never know how I'm going to survive it," said Musikant.

Musikant pays a monthly amount of NIS 1,000 toward closing a NIS 9,000 debt he gained on the black market, leaving him with only NIS 1,500 for his other payments and basic needs.

"I had to take out a loan (on the black market) after I was robbed after leaving the National Insurance Institute," said Musikant who was unable to accumulate pension rights as he was only ever employed in temporary jobs. "I had no other choice; no bank would even look at me."

The unemployed Musikant lives in a small, one-and-a-half room apartment provided by Amidar – a state-owned housing company in Israel. He hasn't had any contact with his children for the last few years, since he divorced their mother.

"There are days when I don't know what I'll eat. With this amount (of income), this isn't life and I want it to end already. I wake up afraid every morning and I don't know who will knock on the door and evict me. How can anyone live like this?"

Sources in the welfare branch within Rehovot's municipality admitted that they don't have any further ability to help Musikant, and he isn't alone.

According to the latest poverty report from the National Insurance Institute, more than 1.7 million Israelis lived below the poverty line in 2012. Experts estimate that the new report to be submitted at the end of 2014 will show an increase in poverty and social disparities due to the expected effects of increased VAT taxes and cuts in children's welfare which were decided on last year.

The Committee for the Fight against Poverty, appointed by Welfare minister Meir Cohen, presented its findings three months ago, but despite the minister's promises, it appears that the budget cuts for 2015 will have a direct effect on the committee's ability to provide aid.

Gaza operation caused the delay

When the Committee's conclusions were brought before the minister in June, he promised to present the report at a cabinet meeting within two months, but because of Operation Protective Edge, discussions on the issue were delayed and the findings were never turned into action.

Members of the committee, led by Elie Elalouf, met with officials over the last few weeks in an attempt to push the report to the forefront of government discussions, and the Welfare Ministry has said that the cabinet will address the issue soon. The ministry also pointed out that overall welfare had increased by one billion shekels over the course of 2014.

Cohen promised just last week that next year's budget will include an increase in pensions by a total of NIS 380 million as part of the implementation of the committee's findings.

Meanwhile, many of those in need continue to receive assistance from private organizations, which consistently report an increase in demand every year leading up to the holidays.

At least some of these reports seem to be connected to some charity's attempts to bring in greater donations, but it should also be noted that yearly poverty reports from the National Insurance Institute have included yearly increases in poverty levels and social disparity over the last decade.

Leket Israel, one of the biggest charities in Israel providing food aid, has been affected the most by increasing demands. During every week of last month, the organization provided various amounts of food to some 168,000 in need - an increase of 20% in the number of packages given out during the same period of last year.

The reasons for increasing demands are varied, but charities are pointing to more requests from those who are employed as well as the recent fighting in Gaza, the increase in VAT taxes, and cuts to children's aid programs.

According to Pini Fefer, Relations Director at Leket, "We hear more and more about the working poor who turn to charity and we can see now the late effects of last year's budget cuts."

Fefer also said that, "The fighting in the south then needs to be added on top of that. Some of the people in disadvantaged communities are poor workers who were already living on the edge, their children weren't in school, and that's a very large expense. The area cries out."

The recent military operation also led to a decrease in donations according to Fefer. "People in the business sector say, 'Our budget for donations ran out when we donated large sums to the war,' and at the moment we aren't sure that we'll be able to meet demand.

The chairman of Pitchon Lev, Nissim Zioni, said that the new requests include, "families in the south with two parents who have full time jobs, but because of Operation Protective Edge their incomes suffered dramatically."

Reprinted with permission from Ynet News


Photo Caption: Angel Musiknat had to seek out a loan on the black market just to get by

Photo Credit: Avi Mualem

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