Government ministers announced Wednesday 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 disabled activists who have been holding traffic-halting demonstrations throughout 2017.
The deal, reached by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Welfare Minister Haim Katz, will see a budget hike of NIS 2.14 billion over the year, with one raise scheduled at the end of January and another in June. The initial plan approved last month saw an increase in 2018 of NIS 1.45 billion ($416 million).
Under the deal, some 244,000 Israelis claiming full disability benefits will receive an additional NIS 501-701 a month by the end of the year. The current full monthly benefit is NIS 2,342. The agreement also includes an additional NIS 50 million ($14.3 million) specifically for blind Israelis.
“We bring good news to the State of Israel today and to the disabled population of Israel. This is a historic step that will begin immediately,” Netanyahu said at a press conference announcing the decision.
Katz called the deal an “improved plan” and said it was “an important step toward improving the situation for the disabled.”
But protest leaders, who have been holding demonstrations across the country in a call to raise the benefits, pointing out that while 2018 will see higher increases than planned, the total three-year budget hike is the same as previously agreed.
Under the December deal, benefits were to rise in four stages, from January 2018 to January 2021, at a total cost of NIS 4.2 billion ($1.19 billion). Wednesday’s agreement brings forward the second payment from 2019 to this year but the total raise is the same.
Alex Friedman, the founder of the protests, said the new deal was devoid of any significant progress.
“The amount presented in the triumphant announcement this morning is significantly less than what was agreed. We are not moved by this nicely packaged gift with nothing inside,” he said. “We stand by our demand to raise the monthly benefits to the minimum wage.”
The minimum wage currently stands at NIS 5,300, as of December 2017. The government has pledged to consider raising the maximum to this figure at the end of the four years.
Over recent months, disabled groups have been leading protests that have brought traffic to a standstill by blocking junctions, highways and major arterial streets in cities throughout the country.
Protests by the disabled began in March 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 had ramped up in recent weeks, pushing the issue to the top of the national agenda with protests causing major traffic jams daily.