Disabled activists sit in at the Knesset plenum discussing goverment allowances for the disabled, September 18, 2017..
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Prominent coalition members, including Social Services and Labor Minister Haim Katz (Likud), coalition chairman David Bitan (Likud) and Finance Committee chairman Moshe Gafni (United Torah Judaism) support the proposal to raise disability benefits to the level of the minimum wage. But the government reiterated on Monday that it will not support it.
Katz boycotted the Knesset debate, which took place during its summer recess, because he disagrees with the government’s official position.
In recent months, disabled people have demonstrated around the country, blocking major traffic arteries, calling to raise the monthly stipends they receive from NIS 2,342 to NIS 5,000. The proposal received support from in the coalition and opposition, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon
(Kulanu) responded by promising to raise the stipends after the holidays, but not to the level of the minimum wage.
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Gafni vowed that he will not allow any financial decisions to be approved until disability stipends are raised.
Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, whose party is in the opposition, argued that if a party threatened to leave the coalition over disability stipends, then Netanyahu would raise them.
"Does anyone have any doubt? He'd think that because he's under investigation now
, it's not a comfortable time for an election...This is the only language [this government] understands. If you blackmail, you get the funds you want; people who need it, don't get it," Lapid said.
Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman (UTJ) presented the government position, reading off of a paper written by the National Economics Council, which said that after the High Holy Days, the government plans to begin an increase in disability benefits by NIS 4 billion over the next four years. Disabled people who cannot work will have their stipends raised to NIS 3,200 per month, and the stipend for severely disabled people will increase to NIS 4,000. Monthly earnings up to NIS 4,200 will not be counted against disability benefits.
Then, Litzman went offbook and blamed Lapid, saying that the former finance minister had been willing to have the government lose NIS 3b. in revenue annually by canceling value-added tax on home sales, which was Lapid’s flagship policy, but he didn’t divert more funds to the disabled.
“You should lie less before Rosh Hashana,” Lapid shouted. “There wasn’t enough money then.”
Litzman retorted: “You had the money, you had NIS 3b., and we fought in the Finance Committee. You wanted to waste it and not give it to disabled people.”
Zionist Union MK Itzik Shmuly accused the government of treating disabled people “like rags on the street, without a drop of sensitivity.”
“Disabled people are not one of this government’s priorities,” he said. “Our leaders forgot that the role of the shepherd is to take care of the sheep – even the weak sheep.”
Ahead of the debate, disabled people and their supporters protested outside the Knesset, and their leadership met with the Zionist Union faction.
Zionist Union and Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay said: “The way to change reality is for us to win the [next] election. A month later, we will change the law so you get minimum wage.”
Some of the activists cried about their situation when telling their stories to the Zionist Union MKs.
Naomi Moravia, chairwoman of the Disabled Struggle Campaign, said many of the protesters are not able to put food on their tables for Rosh Hashana.
“This government has no leadership,” she said. “It treats us like cockroaches. We can’t be bought with NIS 300-NIS 400 [per month]. Our prime minister is in a different universe. He says our economy is doing well when people are suffering?”
Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.