Poverty fight in Israel needs $1.7 billion a year, committee says

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel should double supplementary assistance and increase support to the elderly, the nation’s Committee to Fight Poverty recommended.

The 50-member committee made its recommendations public on Monday. The fight against poverty would need 6 billion shekels, or more than $1.7 billion, per year, the committee said.

More than 20 percent of the Israeli population, including 439,500 families and 817,200 children, live below the poverty line, according to a recent Israeli government report. Israel has the second highest poverty rate of any country among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development group of developed nations, just ahead of Mexico.

The committee’s recommendation on supplementary assistance particularly noted families with children. Other recommendations included reducing social workers’ caseloads from as many as 250 to 60; lowering what the elderly pay for medications; and increasing rent subsidies and the supply of public housing.

“If Israel were to accept these findings, meaning the prime minister and the treasury will fund it in full, you would have a wonderful situation of the country moving forward and eliminating poverty,” said Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, founder and president of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews ahead of the release of the recommendations.

The IFCJ, known in Israel as the Keren Yedidut, provides some $60 million annually in aid in Israel, mostly to the elderly. It is the largest philanthropy in Israel, according to Eckstein.

Leket Israel CEO Gidi Kroch in a statement commended the committee members “for their social courage to publish such a well-reasoned and clearly written report, and for their perfect timing, releasing it just as the government begins to work on the 2015 budget.”

“They make some outstanding recommendations, advocate for new cooperations between ministries and a plan to reduce poverty in Israel by 40% over the next ten years,” he said. “However, the problem is implementation and I am not optimistic, given the bureaucracy, that this report will garnish real results and bring about a new reality.”

The committee was established about eight months ago by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry and led by Eli Alalouf, the former head of the Rashi Foundation, which promotes education and social welfare for children and youth.

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