The ministries of Finance, Welfare, Education and Health on Tuesday unveiled a NIS 230 million food security program to help feed 24,000 families.
“The war on poverty begins first of all in going to work and encouraging employment. One of the our central jobs is to help parents who work,” said Finance Minister Yair Lapid during a joint news conference in Beersheba.
“Our job is to ensure that there won’t be even one hungry child in the state,” Lapid continued. “We are not there yet, but we are on our way, and we will fulfill our promises.”
The Education Ministry will spend NIS 100m. to give meals to 75,000 students and increase food subsidies to an additional 82,000. Another 27,500 food aid packages will be distributed to families on welfare.
Education Minister Shai Piron said the move brought Israel “a significant additional step in closing social gaps.”
The Welfare Ministry will spend NIS 60m. for families dealing with long-term hardships, and another NIS 30m. for food stamps. An additional NIS 30m. will go toward providing hot meals for 12,000 Holocaust survivors, 6,000 elderly people without families, 8,000 working special- needs people, and 1,500 at-risk youth.
Health Minister Yael German noted that the food targets had not been defined by simple caloric value, rather according to nutrition, with less processed foods, sodium and trans fats, and an emphasis on fruits, vegetables and whole wheat bread.
Welfare Minister Meir Cohen said the food security initiative was part of a transition for his ministry that would continue with further projects to be announced in the coming month.
He also said the program would return money cut from child allotments directly to the families affected, fulfilling one of Lapid’s promises.
The finance minister made significant cuts in allotments for the 2013-2014 budgets, saying it was important to encourage a culture of work instead of a culture of handouts.
He promised to act on food security following criticism that the cuts would push children into poverty and leave them hungry.
Opposition leader Isaac Herzog praised the program “on its merits,” noting that in 2011 he had worked on the roots of the program as welfare minister. But he criticized the government for not moving sooner.
“He’s repeating the promise for a budget of over NIS 200m. for almost a year, and we haven’t seen the money,” Herzog said of Lapid. “I can say that this program is very important. Sadly, the experience with this government teaches us that there is a huge gap between talk and action.”
The 2015 budget, he added, would likely take a bigger bite out of social services.
The International Fellowship for Christians and Jews, which bills itself as the largest non-governmental organization providing food for Israel’s poor, praised the program, but said the government needed to tackle the root causes of poverty.
“In order to give a real response to the problem of poverty, the government must increase the allotments for the helpless and salaries for work,” said the group’s president, Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein.