NIS 1.5b plan for Holocaust survivors draws fire
By Ruth Sinai

Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog will submit a NIS 1.5 billion plan for assisting needy Holocaust survivors to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert today. The proposal would give some 170,000 elderly survivors stipends of up to NIS 1,040 a month. Some NIS 1.2 billion would cover the stipends, and another NIS 300 million would cover services.

But the plan, which would apply only to people who do not already receive survivor benefits from either the Israeli government or a foreign government, has aroused opposition from both welfare professionals and the Finance Ministry. Its detractors charge that it is populist, too expensive, defines survivors too broadly and could encourage other population groups to demand special assistance as well.

Instead, detractors propose, the government should simply increase the standard old-age allowance for needy senior citizens. That, they argued, would both cost less and avoid discrimination against the elderly who did not immigrate from Europe. Moreover, the detractors said, most of those whom Herzog’s plan would cover are people who moved to Israel from the Former Soviet Union in the 1990s, and they already receive supplemental government assistance as needy immigrants.

The plan, based on the proposals of an interministerial committee, includes three elements: financial aid, a basket of health and welfare services and help in obtaining benefits to which needy survivors may not be aware that they are entitled. All of these elements would be anchored in legislation.

Under this plan, any survivor whose monthly income is less than NIS 3,221 for an individual or NIS 4,269 for a couple would receive a supplement of up to NIS 1,040 per month – the equivalent of the minimum grant given to those survivors who currently receive stipends from the Finance Ministry.

This grant would cost an estimated NIS 1.2 billion in 2008 and less each succeeding year, as survivors are dying off at an estimated rate of 12,450 per year.

The plan defines a survivor as anyone who was in Germany, occupied German territory or a country ruled by a German ally during the Holocaust. Under this definition, there are currently some 256,000 survivors in Israel, of whom about 40 percent immigrated before 1953 and 35 percent in the 1990s. Overall, some 23 percent of survivors are thought to live in poverty, but among immigrants from the 1990s, the rate reaches 42 percent.

Of these 256,000 people, almost 170,000 currently receive no benefits from any source – either the Israeli government or the governments of Germany, Austria, Holland and Belgium. Existing Israeli law does not grant survivor benefits to people who moved to Israel after 1953.

The proposed basket of services, including nursing care, medical equipment, rent subsidies and psychological counseling, would cost some NIS 300 million a year.