Israeli lawmakers gave unanimous approval to boosting disability benefits early Tueday, capping a several year battle by activists for an increase in state subsidies.
The plan, which will allocate NIS 4.3 billion ($1.23 billion) for disability benefits for four years, was passed by all 84 Knesset members present during the overnight session early Tuesday in second and third readings.
The increased subsidies, which will jump by between NIS 470 ($133) and NIS 770 ($218) a month depending on the severity of the disability, maxing out at nearly NIS 4,000 total, are due to take effect on March 1.
Passage of the increase followed months of intense protests from activists, who held near-daily demonstrations blocking main highways around the country last year.
Earlier in the day, some 30 disabled protesters unhappy with the amount of the increased subsidies barricaded themselves at the entrance to the Knesset and called for lawmakers to vote against the bill.
Welfare Minister Haim Katz called the effort to get the increase included in the budget a “persistent battle,” and criticized those who were pushing for more.
“This is one of the most dramatic laws. A law that costs NIS 4.3 billion and there are so many unhappy. No government has given so much to social programs as this one,” he said. “The fact that the disabled are not satisfied, that tears me up, but I know this law is the first crack in the wall … This is the first step to bringing it up to minimum wage, but you need to have patience.”
Protests by the disabled began in March last year, after a Knesset committee rejected for the third time a bill aimed at bringing disabled benefits up to the level of the minimum wage.
They continued throughout the summer while the Knesset was in recess, and were ramped up toward the end of the year, pushing the issue to the top of the national agenda, with protests causing major traffic jams daily.
At the beginning of January, government ministers announced that they will raise the budget for disability benefits by more than NIS 2 billion ($580 million) in 2018, nearly half a billion shekels more than previously planned, in an attempt to reach an agreement with the activists.