The Knesset on Monday approved an increase of NIS 1 billion ($290 million) each year in benefits for Israel’s dwindling, largely destitute population of Holocaust survivors.
The new benefits package, titled “The National Plan for Aiding Survivors of the Holocaust,” was initiated by Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, and quickly passed its second and third readings on the Knesset floor Monday to be enshrined in law. The plan is set to increase stipends and streamline bureaucracy for some 200,000 survivors across many government programs.
The bill’s passage shows the survivors they “are not forgotten,” Lapid said after the initiative was approved, and added that the increased benefits were not just a piece of legislation, but a way of correcting a historical wrong and represented “a change in attitude.”
In addition to the additional financial benefits, the bill will “simplify the terrible bureaucratic journey Holocaust survivors were forced to endure to in order to receive what they deserve and exercise their rights,” Lapid said.
“This won’t solve all the problems, it won’t compensate them for the lost years, but tonight the Holocaust survivors know that we are there for them,” the finance minister added.
When the first draft of the bill was approved by the cabinet, Welfare Minister Cohen called the 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.”
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 and provides complete funding for medications.
The bill also does away 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 optometrist 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.
Haviv Rettig Gur contributed to this report.