After protests, state agrees to up disability benefits to over NIS 4,000

Marathon talks between treasury official, union and disabled rights activists ends in agreement to up stipends, potentially ending months of traffic-halting demonstrations

Disabled activists block a road in Jerusalem on September 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Disabled activists block a road in Jerusalem on September 18, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Treasury officials and disabled rights activists agreed on a landmark deal to increase state benefits after marathon talks that ended early Friday morning, potentially ending months of traffic-blocking protests over the issue.

A compromise agreement will see disability benefits raised to up to NIS 4,500 ($1,270) a month, according to the Histadrut labor federation, which was involved in the talks and announced the deal just before 4 a.m. Friday.

The deal comes after months of actions by disabled protesters to draw attention to their plight by blocking main highways, often tying up traffic for hours and putting pressure on the government to find a way to end the demonstrations.

Demonstrators had said the current benefits level of NIS 2,342 ($660) was not enough to live on, and needed to be raised and linked to the minimum wage, which is raised periodically through Knesset legislation.

Representatives of the union, which recently said it would back the protesters, disabled rights activists and Finance Ministry officials met for over 14 hours starting Thursday afternoon, the first such meeting since the protests began over the summer.

According to the agreement, the most severely disabled who need constant medical care will get NIS 4,500 a month, with others getting between NIS 2,100 ($593) and NIS 4,050 ($1,143) depending on the severity of their disability and how much they can work.

Those making under NIS 4,300 ($1,213) a month will be eligible for the stipend, up from a cut-off of NIS 2,800 ($790) under current regulations.

The increase, which will be linked to the average wage, is set to take effect next year.

The agreement also earmarks NIS 150 million ($42 million) for disabled children, NIS 300 million ($84 million) for elderly disabled, and NIS 75 million ($21 million) for bolstering work opportunities for the disabled. It was not immediately clear if the figures were annual or one-time budget items.

Illustrative image of disabled activists blocking Ibn Gvirol street in Tel Aviv as they attend a protest calling for an increase in government stipends, August 31, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We made history for the state of Israel,” Histadrut head Avi Nissenkorn said, according to the Haaretz daily. “We dramatically improved the situation of the disabled population.”

Disability rights activists also welcomed the agreement, calling it “historic.”

“The is a social agreement of the utmost importance,” a statement on their behalf read, according to the Walla news website.

In June, lawmakers from across the political spectrum urged the government to accept a new plan that would raise the monthly stipend from NIS 2,342 ($660) to NIS 4,000 ($1,130).

The new stipend level would be linked to the minimum wage, which is raised periodically through Knesset legislation. The current stipend level is linked to the consumer price index, which rises more slowly than the minimum wage.

The proposal was a compromise between the demands of disability activists, including MK Ilan Gilon of Meretz, to set the stipend at the minimum wage, or NIS 5,000 ($1,400) per month, and those of a committee appointed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that recommended a more modest increase to NIS 3,200 ($900) and would limit the increase to those with very severe disabilities and no family.

Coalition Chairman David Bitan (Likud) gestures during a plenum session at the Knesset on May 10, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Coalition whip David Bitan, a close ally of Netanyahu praised the agreement.

“This is an achievement that raises the disabled stipends and allows the disabled public to go back to earning a living respectfully without losing out on the benefits,” he said.

The agreement came after demonstrators stepped up their protests in recent weeks, often blocking multiple highways a day and managing to place the issue at the center of the national agenda.

Illustrative image of disabled, handicapped and activists attend a protest calling for better health care, on a main road outside the town of Yekum, causing major traffic jams, August 14, 2017. (Flash90)

Earlier this week police had begun trying to crack down on the protests by handing out fines, though it appeared to have little effect.

On Wednesday, protesters blocked main arteries in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

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