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(photo credit: GPO [file])
The State of Israel will allocate hundreds of millions of shekels to elderly Holocaust survivors living in Israel in an eleventh-hour effort to improve their dire living conditions, the government announced Monday.
The long-awaited decision, which was made on the recommendation of an interministerial committee initiated by Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog, follows mounting public pressure for additional government assistance to impoverished Holocaust survivors living in Israel.
The newly approved funds seek to buttress paltry state pensions and other social benefits already provided to the survivors that have proven inadequate to meet their basic needs.
"We are correcting a 60-year-old blight," Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said.
"Holocaust survivors living in Israel are entitled to live respectably without reaching a situation in which it is beyond their means to enjoy a hot meal," he said. "The neglect of successive governments will not continue."
According to the decision, the state will allocate hundreds of millions of shekels over the next four years in financial grants to the approximately 120,000 Holocaust survivors over 70 who receive National Insurance Institute pensions and income support payments, the government said in a statement.
The state plan allocates NIS 130 million in financial assistance to Holocaust survivors in 2008, a sum that will be doubled in 2009 and eventually reach more than NIS 300 million by 2011. Hundreds of millions of shekels will also be allocated from non-governmental sources for medical treatment and care for Holocaust survivors.
Approximately 250,000 Holocaust survivors are living in the country. Nearly one-third of them live in poverty, recent Israeli welfare reports have found, prompting growing calls for additional government assistance.
Representatives of Holocaust survivors praised the decision but voiced skepticism of the plan, which will only begin to go into effect next year.
"I welcome the fact that the prime minister and the welfare minister decided to help the country's biggest victims and saw the extent of the problems, but I don't understand why things cannot be resolved immediately," said Noah Flug, chairman of the Center of Organizations of Holocaust Survivors.
Flug noted that the average age of the Holocaust survivors in Israel was 81, and that time to help them was quickly running out.
"I heard that the solution will only be provided in the 2008 budget. These people are old and must be helped right now," he said.
Colette Avital, a Labor MK and chair of the caucus for Holocaust survivors in the Knesset, asked: "How is the prime minister going to solve the problems of 120,000 survivors when the sum proposed for 2008 is only NIS 130 million? Is NIS 1,000 per person per year an addition that can solve the hardship, hunger, and need for medicine and medical care?
"Scorn for the poor and salt in the eyes of Holocaust survivors," Avital added.