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Liberman delays cut to daycare subsidies for children of yeshiva students

Finance, economy ministries say policy denounced by ultra-Orthodox won’t take effect until November 1, to allow more time for preparation

Illustrative: Teachers clean a classroom at a daycare center in Modiin on May 7, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
Illustrative: Teachers clean a classroom at a daycare center in Modiin on May 7, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

A controversial move to end daycare subsidies for the children of full-time yeshiva students is being pushed off by several months, the finance and economy ministries said Wednesday.

The policy, which is expected to end the subsidies for around 18,000 households, most of them ultra-Orthodox, will now take effect on November 1 rather than at the start of the new school year in September, according to a joint statement from Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Orna Barbivai.

“The finance and economy ministers decided to grant two more months for the education system, employment market and families themselves to prepare for the decision to change the criteria for those eligible for daycare subsidies,” the statement said.

The move had been pushed by Treasury chief Liberman, drawing furious criticism from Haredi politicians. Liberman has sought to dampen Haredi political influence and end special government benefits enjoyed by the ultra-Orthodox.

In a separate statement issued later Wednesday, the Finance Ministry said Wednesday’s decision would not change the timing of Liberman’s plans to immediately reallocate NIS 55 million ($17 million) of the funds from the slashed daycare subsidies to efforts against domestic violence.

In total, daycare subsidies are estimated to cost the state NIS 1.2 billion ($366 million) annually, of which about a third goes to families in which the father studies full time at a religious seminary.

The new conditions for receiving daycare subsidies for kids up to age 3, which Liberman announced last week, will effectively end them for some 21,000 children whose fathers are full-time yeshiva students.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 11, 2021. (Marc Israel Sellem/Pool/Flash90)

The finance minister said the subsidies will be granted only if both the child’s parents work at least 24 hours a week or are involved in academic or vocational studies — but not Torah studies.

Liberman argued that the steps will end up benefitting the ultra-Orthodox community, even if they raise the ire of its leadership, as it will encourage them to join the job market to receive the subsidies.

The move by Liberman, who heads the right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party, caused some consternation in the coalition, many of whose members are hoping the Haredi Shas and United Torah Judaism parties can tempted to join the coalition to ensure their continued access to state funds that go toward large-scale subsidies for their constituents.

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