The Labor and Social Services Ministry is seeking to realize the rights of thousands of Holocaust survivors, which have gone unclaimed due to bureaucratic obstacles and a lack of manpower and awareness.
“We have switched gears in the ministry,” Iris Florentine, deputy director general, head of the Division for Personal and Social Services at the ministry told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“Instead of waiting until survivors claim their rights, we are ‘pushing’ their rights onto them.”
As such, the ministry announced that in 2017 it spent 98% of its social services budget for Holocaust survivors, amounting to some NIS 40 million.
The utilization of the funds was achieved via a special budget allocated by the ministry to some 60 local authorities for the purposes of helping making the rights of Holocaust survivors more accessible.
In April 2016, Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz revealed at a press conference in Tel Aviv that some 20,000 Holocaust survivors did not realize their rights, totaling over NIS 100m.
“We will do everything that we can in order to prevent the terrible suffering and allow them to live in dignity,” he said.
Katz said that his ministry, in collaboration with the National Insurance Institute, would personally reach out to each and every one of these survivors to examine and help them realize this right.
Additionally, Katz announced his ministry would increase its budget to assist survivors from NIS 7m. in 2015 to NIS 47m. per year beginning in 2016.
Two years later, the ministry has allocated some NIS 80m. toward achieving this reform.
Yet despite this, in August 2017, the ministry found that local authorities were only utilizing a fraction of the budget at their disposal allocated by the ministry for the welfare of survivors.
“This is the second year that we have allocated a budget to provide services for Holocaust survivors,” said Florentine.
According to Florentine, the ministry found that municipalities were spending only between 3% to 50% of the funds at their disposal.
“The problem was a lack of manpower,” she explained. So the ministry allocated more than NIS 3m. this past year in order to “remove obstacles” and to “increase the realization of rights” among survivors – mainly by addressing the shortage of manpower in local authorities and by raising awareness among survivors.
The result was the realization of rights for over 8,000 Holocaust survivors known to the welfare authorities living in poverty.
“This year we were able to successfully implement nearly the entire budget to help survivors realize their rights,” she said.
As such, in 2017 the ministry allocated some NIS 11m. toward dental work, glasses and hearing aids for Holocaust survivors.
Additionally, over the course of the past year, the ministry initiated 28 “supportive communities” for some 8,000 survivors totaling NIS 11m.
A “supportive community” is a service provided to the elderly that provides them with a sense of personal security, a distress button, assistance from a dedicated community leader and social activities, explained Florentine.
Furthermore, the ministry operated 60 clubs for Holocaust survivors at a cost of some NIS 13m., which included transportation to and from the clubs, two full meals per day, and a variety of social activities.
The ministry also said it utilized 120% of its NIS 7m. budget toward operating more than 120 social clubs for Holocaust survivors throughout the country that provide a “second home” to some 10,000 survivors and their partners – adding an additional NIS 2m. to run the successful program.
Katz also instructed his ministry together with the National Insurance Institute to implement survivors’ rights with regards to electricity and nursing care in 2016.
Since that time, the ministry found that 4,193 survivors had never applied to the NII to receive nursing care and as such, in 2017, some 950 survivors received their full rights for nursing care for the first time.
More than 2,200 survivors received an additional nine hours of nursing care each week while some 6,600 survivors receive a discount of 50% on their electricity bill.
The increase in funds and their full realization has helped thousands of survivors, though Florentine said the ministry is currently aiming to create a national plan to realize more rights of survivors.
According to the ministry, there are fewer than 200,000 Holocaust survivors living in Israel, with nearly a third living in poverty.
“Our next challenge is to expand their rights and in 2018 we have a budget of NIS 10m. to open additional services for Holocaust survivors,” Florentine said. “With the feeling that time is limited, we need to provide these services now and give survivors their maximum rights.”
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