The National Nutritional Security Council has released a report outlining a “national program to ensure food security for households in Israel.”
On Monday, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira issued his report on food sufficiency that found shortcomings in the state’s efforts to address hunger. In 2011, 900,000 people, including 360,000, either went a whole day without food or were forced to reduce their food intake over a period due to poverty, his office wrote.
“The National Nutritional Security Council report is a response to the situation that was summarized in the State Comptroller’s Report,” Dov Chernichovsky, chairman of the National Nutritional Security Council and a professor of health economics and policy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba, told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
The Welfare and Social Services Ministry appointed the council in 2011 to “promote food security among Israeli citizens with the spirit of human dignity and the principles of equality, justice and fairness.” It was tasked with issuing recommendations to the welfare minister regarding policy planning, criteria, enforcement, actions and regulations on the issue.
The council’s report addresses the historical allocation of some NIS 200 million annually to deal with food insecurity and aims to advise the Welfare Ministry on how to best distribute these funds to ensure the most efficient and the most nutritional allocation.
A National Insurance Institute survey revealed that some 330,000 households suffer from a “subjective feeling of ‘food insecurity,’” according to the council’s report. More than half of these families, some 10.5 percent of households in the country, suffer from “severe food insecurity,” defined as food insecurity that may be accompanied by feelings of hunger.
The report proposes eligibility criteria for households to receive assistance based on family income and expenditures, rather than on “subjective feelings.” Families whose budgets from all income sources – jobs, allotments and pensions – do not exceed 150% of the poverty line would be eligible for assistance.
In addition, families who receive pensions from the National Insurance Institute for income support, alimony or disability would be eligible for assistance. Single parent families and families that have exhausted their earning capacity, meaning couples who work a minimum of 125% in the labor market, for example one member working full-time and the other quarter-time, would also be eligible.
Once a family meeting the eligibility criteria applies for assistance, its expenditures on housing, electricity and other bills, medical expenses, and other expenses for basic needs are examined. If the remaining budget falls short of the proposed minimal budget required for food security, that family would be eligible to receive assistance.
An estimated 110,000 families would qualify to receive food assistance under the proposed plan. Implementation of this plan would cost an estimated NIS 500m. per year, more than twice the NIS 200m. allocated by the government.
The average aid package proposed in the report stands at some NIS 320 per family per month. Families of two to three people, comprising some 19% of families with food insecurity, would receive monthly assistance of some NIS 170 each. Families with four to six people, comprising over half of the families, would receive monthly aid of NIS 290 each and the remaining families of seven or more would receive monthly baskets valued at NIS 445.
The report further proposes an integrative approach offering both food baskets and food vouchers to needy families as determined on a case by case basis.
“There is a very simple reality, that we can leverage more food with packages. The more we distribute food stamps, the less money we have to go to the households. This should be taken into consideration,” Chernichovsky explained.
The proposal calls for the collaboration of the state, NGOs and the business sector.
“The current system is disintegrated.
The NGOs do their work and the government is not really involved in the situation on the ground and so there is a tremendous disconnection between them,” he said.
According to the plan, every sector in society will bear responsibility in an effort to collaboratively tackle food insecurity.
It calls for the establishment of an executive board comprised of representatives from the government, local authorities, the National Nutritional Security Council, the Eshel Jerusalem soup kitchen organization, food distribution organizations and food industry distributors.
The government, in cooperation with local authorities, will be responsible for implementing policy, allocating a budget, regulation and enforcement. The welfare departments of the local authorities together with Eshel Jerusalem will be responsible for determining and checking eligibility requirements according to the criteria set forth by the state and distributing food vouchers to eligible households.
“The government is slowly starting to change its attitude to understand it needs to become more involved, though nothing has changed in the field yet,” said Chernichovsky.
The two leading NGO’s for food distribution, Leket Israel and Latet, will manage the food distribution and coordinate its collection, purchase and distribution through a network of certified local food charities. These charitable organizations will in turn distribute food baskets directly to households.
The food industry and distributors would play a role that includes providing contributions, through discounts, and offering infrastructure and knowledge.
“This report offers a fundamental way to combat issues of poverty in Israel which unfortunately has been worsening, but we must understand that this is a singular issue, and there is a priority to deal with this issue,” Chernichovsky said.