Cabinet approves increased Holocaust survivor benefits

Cabinet approves increased Holocaust survivor benefits

Survivors have been 'neglected, cast aside and lost in labyrinthine bureaucracy,’ laments finance minister

Haviv Rettig Gur is The Times of Israel's senior analyst.

Holocaust survivor Rivka Fringeru, 82, left, holds hand with Cynthia Wroclawski, director of the Yad Vashem names collection project, Sunday, May 5, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)
Holocaust survivor Rivka Fringeru, 82, left, holds hand with Cynthia Wroclawski, director of the Yad Vashem names collection project, Sunday, May 5, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Ariel Schalit)

On the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Israeli government approved an increase of NIS 1 billion ($290 million) each year in added benefits for Israel’s dwindling, largely destitute population of Holocaust survivors.

The new benefits basket, titled “The National Plan for Aiding Survivors of the Holocaust,” was initiated by Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, and will be implemented “with all possible speed…cognizant of the fact that the time frame for improving the lives of Holocaust survivors is limited.”

It was approved by the cabinet on Sunday, paving the way for fast-tracking the necessary Knesset legislation once the parliament returns from recess on May 12.

“Today we are changing the priorities and righting the wrongs committed over decades during which Holocaust survivors were neglected, cast aside and lost in the labyrinthine machinery of Israeli bureaucracy,” Lapid said in a statement after the cabinet approved the plan.

Welfare Minister Meir Cohen called the cabinet vote “one of the most dramatic and moral decisions” of any government “since the founding of the state…This is a step that will bring some justice” for survivors, and will enable them “to live out their lives in the land of Israel in a respectable way.”

The new plan is set to increase stipends and streamline bureaucracy for some 200,000 survivors and across many government programs.

It will increase the monthly stipends of various categories of survivors. Some NIS 277 million a year will go to adding thousands of shekels a month in stipends for survivors who came to Israel after 1953, a group numbering some 18,500 Israelis who were not eligible for some of the benefits given to those who arrived earlier. From a stipend of between NIS 1,500 and NIS 1,800 currently, the post-1953 survivors will now be eligible for needs-dependent benefits that can raise their stipends to as high as NIS 5,400 per month, and for the poorest among them to NIS 8,800.

The new plan will also spend some NIS 166 million each year raising the minimum stipend for some 88,000 survivors from the current NIS 1,825 per month to NIS 2,200.

Survivors currently pay only 50% of the copay on medications. The new plan dispenses with the copay entirely.

The plan also removes with some of the bureaucratic hurdles that stand between survivors and their benefits. For example, many survivors – those who came after 1953 and were not interned in death camps or ghettos – are eligible for up to NIS 4,000 in reimbursement for dental and optometric care over a two-year period. The new plan will change that to a stipend of NIS 3,600 annually, nearly twice the current amount, and remove the requirement to show receipts for the medical services purchased. The new policy will cost some NIS 288 million annually.

The plan will extend the NIS 2,000 monthly stipend to the spouses of deceased Holocaust survivors beyond the current limit of three years after the survivor’s death. Some 9,000 survivors classified by the Finance Ministry as “destitute” will receive an additional NIS 2,000 annual stipend. And welfare and psychological services for survivors will see an injection of an additional NIS 70 million a year in government funding.

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