Monday, July 21, 2003

Israel Cuts Benefits for Mothers, Homemakers

Israel Cuts Benefits for Mothers, Homemakers

Israel's new economic plan has serious consequences for women and their families, with major cutbacks in family funding and an increase in the official retirement age.

NETANYA, Israel (WOMENSENEWS)--A new economic plan in Israel slashes child allowances, raises health taxes for housewives and increases the retirement age for women by seven years.
These changes represent a significant development in Israel's policy, which once financially rewarded women for having children. Although women aren't specifically being targeted in the spending cuts, they are among the hardest hit.

Single mothers are feeling the brunt of the changes. The National Insurance Institute of Israel has lowered the ceiling of how much they will give for child support in circumstances in which a child's father is unable or unwilling to pay and supplemental income to families living below the poverty level has been drastically reduced, leaving a large segment of the population being thrust into poverty.

These changes have been on paper for months, but once the reforms were actualized, and families were faced with the reality of not having enough money, people began to protest.
Last week, a single mother named Vikki Knafo conducted a week-long protest walk from Mitzpe Ramon to Jerusalem, covering 124 miles and almost one-third of the country. Her journey drew support along the way, as well as attention to the plight of other single mothers on
welfare, and she was met at her final destination, the Finance Ministry, by activists from all over the country.

"I am not a political activist. I am just a woman who has had enough," she told The Jerusalem Post. "The government has to realize that we are not going to just sit and take it."
Other cuts involve a monetary gift that Israel has provided for many years upon the birth of each new child. This amount was NIS 1,400 ($325) for each of the first four children born, and then from child number five and on, that amount doubled to NIS 2,800 ($650) per child. These grants were given to support the growth of families in Israel, for both religious and demographic reasons.

Now, while the initial gift has actually been increased to NIS 1,600 ($372) for the first child, nothing further will be given for additional births. According to National Security data, this means that 71 percent of all childbirths in Israel will no longer receive grants.

Also affected is a monthly child allowance that mothers have received until now. Under the new plan, mothers will receive a flat NIS 144 ($33) per month for each child, whereas previously, each new child brought its mother a grant larger than its prior siblings.

A mother with three children will now receive 38 percent less government support and mothers of seven or eight children will find a 73 percent cut in the funding they used to receive.
An estimated 500,000 wives work as homemakers in Israel and up until now their health care has been covered by their husbands' jobs. Under the new plan, these women will now have to pay NIS 70 ($16) per month. In addition, other health benefits will be cut. Nina Devere, former member of the national board of directors of Emunah Women, an Israeli organization dedicated to education and social welfare, says these cuts will mainly affect poor women.

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