With one in four Holocaust survivors in Israel living below the poverty line, Finance Minister Yair Lapid introduced a proposal Sunday to increase by NIS 1 billion ($289 million) the budget for the 200,000 victims of the Nazi atrocities living in Israel.
The bill, which includes higher monthly stipends and free medication for the survivors, is set to be presented for a Knesset vote on April 27 — the day before the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“The State of Israel has a historic obligation to the Holocaust survivors, and our mission is to make it easier for them during the last years of their lives,” Lapid wrote in a statement.
The new allocation of funds would be added to the current NIS 835 million budget for survivors.
The proposal includes dissolving the distinction between Holocaust survivors who moved to Israel prior to 1953 and the 18,500 former ghetto and concentration camp inmates who moved after that date.
The move would undercut a contested 1957 law that recognizes only those who emigrated prior to 1953 for state reparations.
Until now, the latter group received NIS 1,500-1,800 ($433-$520) a month. However, under the new bill, those who moved after 1953 will be eligible for NIS 2,200-5,400 ($635-1560), like their counterparts who moved before the earlier cutoff date, and will be entitled to other benefits based on their socioeconomic status.
Welfare and Social Services Minister Meir Cohen called the bill “one of the most important social changes since the establishment of the state,” and said it constitutes “the most important and significant reparation” to Israel’s survivors.
Colette Avital, a former Knesset member who now heads up the umbrella Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors in Israel, praised the move, calling it a “historic fix.”
“These are survivors that of no fault of their own did not get to Israel earlier and now they will receive the same benefits they are owed naturally,” she said in a statement.
The program will also advance NIS 50 million toward subsidizing psychological treatment for survivors, and NIS 130 million to cover all medicine costs. Until now, survivors received a 50% discount on medication.
For Holocaust survivors who were not victims of the ghettos or death camps and who moved to Israel after 1953, the new bill aims to ease the bureaucratic process, granting them an annual NIS 3,600 in a direct deposit to their bank accounts, and lessening the documentation requirements for eligibility for this grant.
Presently, those in this category are eligible for up to NIS 4,000 every two years to cover costs for dental care and glasses, if they apply for it and provide receipts.
The proposal also designates NIS 10 million for a program to coordinate visits to the homes of survivors, and NIS 10 million toward day centers that offer welfare services.
Finally, 9,000 impoverished survivors will receive an additional NIS 2,000 annual grant, and the spouses of survivors who passed away will receive a NIS 2,000 monthly stipend, from the fourth year since their death onward. The current law grants these stipends for the first three years after the spouse passes away.
In 2013, the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel published a report that found that one in four Holocaust survivors lives below the poverty line, and 58% of those who requested financial assistance subsisted on NIS 3,000 a month (about $830).
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