MKs spar over child allowances, housewife tax

Gal-On says the move will push 35,000 children over the poverty line; budget supporters say budget fights the root of the problem.

June 30, 2013 14:35
4 minute read.
Israeli government at the Knesset, April 22, 2013.

Cabinet standing up Knesset 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

National Insurance Institute child allotments and taxes on housewives were the topics of raucous debate in the Knesset Finance Committee on Sunday, with Likud Beytenu MKs taking positions opposed to Finance Minister Yair Lapid’s budget.

The Finance Committee held a marathon series of discussions, which was scheduled to last for over six hours but took much longer, with the discussion of child allotments alone taking five hours.

The meeting on child allotments ended without a vote, as committee chairman Nissan Slomiansky (Bayit Yehudi) asked the Finance Ministry to provide more information showing that the policy will not sharply increase the number of children under the poverty line.

Regardless of a child’s birth order or age, the budget will pay the same amount of NIS 140 for every child in a family.

The government is expected to save NIS 1 billion in 2013 and NIS 2.95b. in 2014 from child allotments.

“We don’t want to increase poverty, but solve it at its root by encouraging employment and education,” Slomiansky explained. “Most other OECD states have higher child allotments than we do, but it comes from a need to encourage childbirth, because [unlike Israel] many have negative population growth.”

Slomiansky told Finance Ministry representative Moshe Bar-Siman-Tov that the committee needs to see a more complete picture of the effects of budget cuts in order to make a decision.

According to Bar-Siman- Tov, deputy head of the Finance Ministry’s budget division, some NGOs’ and parties’ statistics on poverty are inaccurate, and the government invests large amounts of money on helping children.

“The most efficient way to eradicate poverty is to work,” Bar-Siman-Tov said. “Very few families in which both parents work full-time are poor.”

Likud Beytenu MK Gila Gamliel was unimpressed with the representative’s arguments, saying that the Finance Ministry constantly compares Israel to the OECD, but tries to hide the facts when it’s inconvenient.

A senior coalition source told The Jerusalem Post that the coalition counts Gamliel as an opposition member on budget votes.

MK Ya’acov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) blamed Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for cutting children’s allotments, pointing out that he did the same as finance minister in 2003.

“The fact that the Finance Ministry gives many allotments, but is cutting [the only] one for children is connected to [Netanyahu’s] agenda, because it hurts haredim and Arabs,” Litzman stated.

MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud Beytenu) sided with the opposition, saying “a child is not to blame if his parents don’t work” and suggested that the cut be spread over several years.

“Haredi children will starve!” MK Moshe Gafni (UTJ) warned. “We will raise money for them, but [poor secular children] don’t have a community supporting them.”

According to Gafni, the Finance Ministry is lying when it says the cuts are meant to encourage work, because employers do not want to hire haredim and Arabs.

“Bureaucrats are taking advantage of the Finance Minister’s naiveté and inability to argue with them,” he added.

MK Michal Biran (Labor) said that Lapid is hurting the whole population in his attempt to fight haredim and was retorted by Yesh Atid MK Aliza Lavie.

“You can’t always say we hate haredim,” Lavie told Labor MKs. “A party where no one has a kippa on his head can’t complain to us.”

Lavie defended Lapid’s budget as one that will create a productive civil society, and pointed out that families who need extra aid can get it from the Welfare Ministry.

“We give other tools to eradicate poverty. We want to end the culture of allotments and have a culture of work,” she explained.

Shas MK Meshulam Nahari did not accept her explanation, saying the budget “punishes children in order to take care of their parents,” and MK Orly Levy-Abecassis (Likud Beytenu) pointed out that the cuts harm the working poor, which goes against its goal to encourage employment.

After the meeting on child allotments alone took five hours, opposition MKs walked out in protest before the parley on requiring housewives to pay for health insurance was to begin, saying Slomiansky was trying to exhaust them so they would be less argumentative.

“There’s a group of MKs who really care and wanted to push off the vote so there can be a deeper discussion,” MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) said. “It’s unfortunate that the committee chairman continued the discussion even though he didn’t keep to the schedule” and added that the incident shows what Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi think of public discourse and the Knesset.

“Slomiansky’s behavior is degrading,” MK Miki Rosenthal (Labor) added. “He’s exhausting the opposition in order to have a quick discussion with no resistance. Any achievement in the Finance Ministry without opposition MKs is pathetic, and nothing to be proud of.”

The Finance Committee chairman responded that this is an intense time in the Knesset, and MKs must do their job even when it requires long days.

“We must show responsibility and pass the budget on time to avoid serious economic harm to the market,” Slomiansky said.

Although opposition MKs were absent from the vote, Likud Beytenu lawmakers Gamliel, Rivlin and Levy- Abecassis all spoke out against the new tax.

“I don’t think this proposal will pass. I personally will not vote for it,” Gamliel said. “Many women stay home because they cannot afford to pay for childcare, which may cost more than what they earn and is not subsidized by the government. This is a death blow to many families.”

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