NGOs: Lower electricity rate hikes for vulnerable sectors

The Public Utilities Authority approved a further 4.7% increase in electricity rates, following a rise of close to 10% in August.

October 26, 2011 07:10
3 minute read.
Poor woman [illustrative]

A poor woman poverty impoverished homeless 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Non-profit organizations working with the country’s needy populations called on the government Tuesday to find a way to ease the increasing cost of electricity for vulnerable sectors in society, especially the elderly poor who often struggle to heat their homes during the winter months.

On Monday, the Public Utilities Authority approved a further 4.7 percent increase in electricity rates, following a rise of close to 10% in August. The sudden sharp increase stems from a reduction in gas deliveries from Egypt to the Israel Electric Corporation and comes despite the wave of recent social protests over the high cost of living here.

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“We plan to call on the government to show some sympathy for the elderly poor and for Holocaust survivors by sparing them this added hike,” Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, president and founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews – one of the country’s largest social welfare charities – told The Jerusalem Post.

“The government needs to take their situation into consideration and not have them absorb the same kind of increases in electricity as the rest of society does,” he said.

While many elderly citizens and survivors do receive subsidies on their electricity costs, there has been no significant change in the pensions and other fiscal benefits they receive from the government.

For many, the increase in electricity rates could mean a winter without adequate heating.

Last year, the IFCJ – in conjunction with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services – distributed some NIS 7 million worth of heating benefits to the elderly. This year, with an expected increase in demand due to the hike, Eckstein said he believes the budget of the charity’s annual “heating the elderly” initiative could be closer to NIS 10m.

“Of course we will do whatever we can to ease the plight of the elderly poor and Holocaust survivors but we do not believe it is right and moral for that to be done without the government at least trying to ease the burden for some,” continued Eckstein, who said he planned in the coming days to approach Welfare and Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon on this issue.

“We want to work with him the same way we worked with [his predecessor] Isaac Herzog but we are looking for a deeper involvement from the ministry,” he said. “We simply can’t take on the cause entirely and absorb it all, this would simply not be right and would be a failure on the part of Kahlon and the ministry.

Ran Melamed, deputy director of social policy and communication for the social empowerment organization Yedid, said that he was fearful of what the hike in electricity prices would mean for thousands of elderly citizens and those who live below the poverty line.

“It is simply daylight robbery and a real cheek,” said Melamed. “The Public Utilities Authority is not looking at the whole picture and has not considered that this increase comes together with other rises in the cost of living.”

“It is everything together that creates the pressure,” he continued, adding that the NGO often receives calls for help from people who struggle to pay their electricity bills and are forced to give up on medicine or other essential items.

Melamed said the ideal would be to hand over responsibility for creating the electric rates to the Knesset, which has a broader picture of society’s overall economic pressures and is more responsive to popular sentiments.

“If there was someone in the Public Utilities Authority that had a fuller picture of what is happening in society and could see all the other elements together” perhaps they could address the issue, he said, “but because there is not therefore this decision should go to vote in the Knesset, either in the plenum or through the Finance Committee.”

“We should not be relying on charities to keep our elderly people warm,” Melamed said.

Kahlon could not be reached for a comment Tuesday. A spokesman said he was out of the country.

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