(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The Knesset Committee for Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs met to discuss increasing government benefits for Holocaust survivors on Wednesday.
According to MK Sofa Landver (Yisrael Beytenu), who initiated the meeting, the law that was passed last year aiming to increase food, housing, health, social services and other benefits to survivors ended up harming those it was seeking to aid.
“The amendment of the law created disappointment instead of hope. Whether by accident or through negligence, rather than increasing the benefits for survivors they were significantly decreased. Additionally, couples in which only one is a survivor have been harmed,” said Landver at the meeting.
MK Yoel Razbozov (Yesh Atid) added that “the intention of former Finance Minister [Yair] Lapid was to benefit Holocaust survivors, and if an absurd situation exists in which some of them now receive less [benefits] than in the past – this must be fixed, and the difference should be given retroactively.”
Ofra Ross, director of the Holocaust Survivors’ Rights Authority at the Finance Ministry, responded to accusations saying that, “following the law, 82,000 Holocaust survivors who weren’t formerly recognized now receive a monthly pension of approximately NIS 3,600, and everyone – including those previously recognized, are exempted from [paying for] medicines. We will not harm anyone, as our intention is to benefit the survivors, and anyone requesting to return to their former status, we will do so willingly.”
Ross added that her office would review all the claims that were turned over regarding lost benefits and also revealed that the office is soon releasing a Russian version of the rights and benefits pamphlet for Holocaust survivors, so those who do not speak Hebrew can become more aware of their rights.
MK Avraham Naguise (Likud), chairman of the committee, said that it is “evident that this is a misunderstanding. Survivors must regain their full rights and pensions that they received in the past, even if there is a need to amend the law again.”
Hilla Peleg, a lawyer with Spring for Holocaust Survivors, was at the committee meeting and explained the issues.
Spring for Holocaust Survivors is a non-profit organization that assists Holocaust survivors in accessing all the benefits available to them.
“The intent was very good and it was a significant step for the Holocaust survivors but, as was said in the committee today... there were populations that were hurt from the amendment and it must be fixed,” Peleg said of the bill that passed last year.
Peleg explained that, before the amendment, Holocaust survivors received a monthly stipend of NIS 1,850 and after the amendment, the stipend increased to NIS 2,200.
The extra NIS 350 a month now given to survivors following the amendment to the law has tipped some survivors over the maximum amount allowed for them to receive the supplementary income and accompanying discounts on water and electricity bills they were eligible for before the increase, resulting in a loss of up to NIS 1,200 a month.
Peleg emphasized that the intent of the amendment was positive, but the additional NIS 350, or less in some cases, should not come at the expense of the other benefits survivors deserve to be receiving.
Another problem that Spring for Holocaust Survivors has been dealing with is what seems to be a bureaucratic mistake.
The amendment from last year intended to streamline the process of survivor benefits by dealing with all benefits through the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority at the Finance Ministry.
The amendment itself stated that the benefits received by survivors who were eligible for supplemental income at the National Insurance Institute would be retained, but over the course of the past year it has become evident that survivors who were eligible for municipal tax discounts at the NII were no longer receiving them through the Holocaust Survivors Rights Authority.
All Holocaust survivors receive a two-thirds discount in municipal taxes, but those eligible for supplemental income received a full 100% discount on the tax. Losing that benefit resulted in many survivors being charged hundreds of shekels a month, which should not have happened.
Some 6,000 Holocaust survivors have been affected by this loss of municipal tax discounts.
Peleg stressed the importance of making information accessible in different languages, particularly Russian, to ensure that all survivors are aware of the benefits they deserve.