Despite testimony by officials from the Treasury and the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Labor, members of the Knesset Committee for the Advancement of the Status of Women remained skeptical on Tuesday regarding the success of government efforts to encourage employment among mothers of preschoolers.
The MKs were there to hear about the implementation of the July 19 cabinet decision to encourage employment among mothers of children up to age 5.
The decision, which was part of the negotiations on the 2009-10 state budget, mandated that an additional NIS 30 million would be spent on the construction and renovation of day care centers for children below the age of three.
Since 2001, a total of NIS 320m. has been allocated for the day care sector, with NIS 180 to subsidize recognized after-hours centers, NIS 75m. for increasing the number of children below the age of three in day care centers, and NIS 35m. to increase subsidies for tuition for children from low-income families.
"There is more [information] lacking than is known," committee chairwoman Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) complained after the ministerial officials presented their summaries. "There is a gap between the agreements made and the reality, between the level of the statements and the level of the implementation. There appears to be a reality of demand for early child care centers, but what really happens?"
"I want to know what are the plans for carrying out the agreements, what is the work schedule. The ambition is to significantly increase the number of day-care centers. On the topic of extended day centers as well, I would like to know what is happening with the promised NIS 180m. that is meant to be dedicated for that purpose.
Finance Ministry representative Yuval Ya'akovi said that "on the matter of additions to the budget that we promised within the framework of the coalition agreements," the money would only reach its destinations in the 2010 budget year.
Tamar Almog, head of the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry's day care department that is in charge of oversight for all day-care centers for children three and under, said the "rationale behind the distribution of the new proposed day-care centers is to identify places in which the current centers are completely full, and the demand exceeds the number of available slots."
Among those locations, she said, were Tel Aviv, Modi'in and Haifa, but Almog could not present a date more specific than "between one and three years" before parents - and lawmakers - would begin to see the dedication of new buildings.
Almog's remarks were met with scepticism from lawmakers who wondered why the focus was on cities that were not located in the economically-distressed periphery.
"When one examines the two alternatives - recognizing costs of child care through tax rebates or subsidizing day-care solutions, the goal is to provide a solution for the weakest demographics," MK Orit Zuaretz (Kadima) said.
"In this case, this is not what will happen. My expectation is that the decision-making process will be based on geographic assessments. This topic was supposed to be discussed before decisions were made, but now today we still must ensure that the money will arrive at its intended destination and that all of those groups that need to be strengthened will be, without passing on the responsibility to the local government."
MKs were also less than satisfied with the Finance Ministry's update, and repeatedly questioned how the ministry had accounted for an additional NIS 150m. promised for child care as part of Labor's coalition agreement with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's government.
Ultimately, Hotovely said a follow-up meeting would be held in two weeks - and requested that in the interim the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry compile an organized list of areas in which demand for child care exceeds available slots, areas where there are day-care centers that are inactive, data on day-care centers built in recent years and a detailed plan for building new centers that will include timetables as well as predicted locations.