Around 4,000 new immigrants and returning expats have discovered in recent weeks that some of the benefits they were promised, particularly professional retraining programs, are not being funded by the government due to budget cuts, The Jerusalem Post has learned.
In the wake of complaints, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry confirmed that it has a NIS 30m. shortfall in the budget for professional retraining courses. It could not immediately say if the shortfall extended to other programs for olim.
"This problem can be traced to the Finance Ministry," a ministry official said on Monday. "We've had our budget cut in every possible direction.
"There was already not one ounce of fat in this ministry, and there are some programs we absolutely can't cut - public housing, the base absorption basket. So we've had to find solutions by cutting every last shekel that can be spared from other places," he said.
One recently returned expat recalled that she had been promised "that the Absorption Ministry would pay 80 percent of my professional retraining course, up to NIS 8,000. But when I went to sign up for the course, and the company providing the course billed the ministry, they were told that the funds aren't there."
According to the expat, who returned from South Africa after 27 years, "a woman from the Absorption Ministry told me this has been going on for a few months and that I should call her every two weeks to see if she received the money from the government to pay for my course."
The problem is doubly acute, since many of those seeking such courses are immigrants and returnees who are having trouble finding work. The inability of the government to pay for the courses is thus a significant burden on cash-strapped families.
The Immigrant Absorption Ministry's budget shortfall - the ministry declined to provide comprehensive figures - has been ongoing for several weeks following the government's cost-cutting measures.
"It's a serious problem," said the ministry official. "We worked this year based on what we expected to receive, and when the [state] budget was passed halfway through the year, we got less than [what was expected] because of across-the-board cuts."
According to an Immigrant Absorption Ministry statement released on Monday in response to a Post inquiry, officials there "hope that the Finance Ministry will fund this important issue and solutions will be found quickly for those on the waiting list" for the retraining programs.
Some observers, however, have criticized the Immigrant Absorption Ministry itself for causing the shortfall, noting that the ministry has changed its priorities under Israel Beiteinu Minister Sofa Landver to focus more on Russian-speakers.
This included the launch earlier this year of an NIS 32m. program to encourage aliya from former Soviet countries and additional efforts to help absorb Russian-speaking olim.
According to one ministry insider who asked not to be named, this new program was added to the budget without considering what programs would pay the price. Now, the insider added, the ministry is scrambling to make up the difference by appealing to the Finance Ministry.
According to sources, the Finance and Immigrant Absorption ministries are hard at work negotiating a new budget for the endangered programs. A high-level meeting, possibly at the ministerial level, is expected between the two ministries soon.
The relevant Finance Ministry officials could not be reached for comment by press time.
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