Disability rights activists have renewed efforts to promote two additional increases to disability benefits, which are required by law to come into effect by 2020. Due to the lack of a stable government and therefore the lack of a new national budget, however, activists are concerned that the planned increases will be delayed. Since 2015, various organizations have launched public campaigns demanding increases in disability benefits. By 2017, road obstructions and picketing were weekly occurrences, ultimately resulting in new legislation that was passed in 2018, requiring an incremental increase to be made to disability benefits for a total of three increments. At present, only one of the three planned increments have come into effect.
Member of Knesset Ilan Gilon (Democratic Union), one of the most active MKs in this long-standing struggle, addressed Finance Committee Chairman Moshe Gafni with a request to urgently convene the Finance Committee to discuss the outline that the Ministers of Finance and Welfare are required to present on the matter of implementing the remaining two increments to disability benefits. Meanwhile, several organizations associated with the disability rights protest movement took to the streets and demonstrated, stating: "The government of Israel is dragging this out. The disabled are dying of hunger and the government is not fulfilling the law that it itself legislated."
In Knesset corridors
Addressing Gafni, Gilon wrote that “in light of the fact that there has been no functioning government for quite some time and that we have a caretaker government, there is a real danger that a completed outline which includes the extent of the additional allocations, and the increase that recipients of the disability benefits deserve, will not be presented by the end of the year. To the best of my knowledge, the interdepartmental committee that is tasked with formulating the outline of the additional allocations for increases to the benefits has met and started working, but it is not clear what progress has been made, and whether it will be able to present a completed outline by the end of the year, as required by the law.”
Gilon’s request also called for the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Welfare to attend the discussion so that they would be able to update the Knesset and the public as to the progress being made by the interdepartmental committee, as well as provide some information pertaining to the additional allocations.
“I am aware that we are currently dealing with a caretaker government and I am aware of the current political crisis, but as has been said, the work of the Knesset goes on, as does the work of government ministries, and so there is no reason for an outline like this not to be presented to the Knesset by the end of the year, and to be approved.”
The legislation to increase disability benefits did not define explicitly the additional allocations for 2020 and 2021, it merely established that an interdepartmental committee would convene to decide on the extent and the means for distributing the future allocations. Disability rights activism organizations have been warning for several months that the disability benefits will not be updated, as is legally required, on account of the current political crisis. The bill that passed in early 2018 did not establish a deadline for the additional gradual increases nor determine their extent, but did establish an end goal of raising the disability benefits to no less than NIS 3,700 – a target whose implementation the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Welfare were required “to investigate.”
According to the wording of the law, “the Minister of Labor and Welfare and the Minister of Finance will investigate increasing the rate of disability benefits gradually in 2020 and 2021, in addition to increasing the benefits according to Amendment no. 200 [the amendment that legislated the first increase – TC] as well as the budgetary resources necessary to do so. They will submit their recommendations for government approval, so that the total cost in 2021 of raising disability benefits will be NIS 341.4 billion on condition that the full monthly benefit…will be no less than NIS 3,700.”
The ministers must submit these recommendations to the government by the end of 2019 and, after receiving government approval, they will be able to legislate them into new regulations, to be approved by the Labor and Welfare Committee.
Meanwhile, on the street
The leaders of the protest announced before the demonstration on Thursday, October 31, that: “The Government of Israel is dragging this out, it’s that simple, [and that] the state of affairs is intolerable. The disabled are dying of hunger and the government is not fulfilling the law that it itself legislated. The additional allocations for the disabled were meant to come online by the beginning of 2020, but because there hasn’t been an interdepartmental committee for the distribution of the allocations for the disabled, they won’t receive what the law promises them by the date it established.”
Eyal Cohen, among the leading protestors of the disability rights protest movement, and head of the Disabled Become Panthers organization, said that Thursday’s demonstration would be just the beginning, and that there are further plans in store.
“I won’t go into any detail about our plan but it will be a lot more painful than in past years. It is a signal to any prime minister who comes to power that our patience for being strung along has come to an end and that from now we will initiate very painful guerilla actions. Until the two additional allocations are given and until the benefits are raised to minimum wage, the demonstrations won’t end.”
Alex Friedman, founder of the A Disabled Person is Not Half a Person organization stated that “the state is paralyzed and many significant matters are falling between the cracks, including unfortunately the next allocation in the disability law, for which we fought for years. Thanks to our struggle, today there is consensus surrounding the plight of the disabled, and with a little goodwill, the problem will be solved presently. I call on the Prime Minister and Minister for Welfare, Benjamin Netanyahu, and the head of Blue and White, Benny Gantz, who two days before the elections committed to taking care of the disabled, to display leadership and social compassion and to solve this crisis immediately.”
Hanan Tal, CEO of the organization, added that “the ultimate goal was and remains a disability benefit at the rate of the minimum wage, but out of responsibility for disabled people in Israel we achieved an excellent law that aims to, after decades of neglect from generations of Israeli governments, provide the disabled with some breathing room. The law was significantly watered-down before being passed, and now remains to be implemented. I call on the elected officials to show responsibility and to see to it that the disabled receive what they deserve, which is the minimum that is being asked for.”