New budget includes tough terms for haredim

Municipal tax discounts, housing and daycare subsidies will be conditioned on employment of both parents.

Haredim in Mea Shearim 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim in Mea Shearim 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The budget for 2013 and 2014 presented on Tuesday will have a dramatic impact on the haredi community.
Various provisions in the document will make state benefits dependent on participation in the workforce, and funding for educational institutions will depend on the integration of secular studies into the ultra-Orthodox education system.
The provisions have generated fury among haredi politicians, who have vowed to fight the new budget.
United Torah Judaism MK Menachem Eliezer Mozes, who served as deputy education minister in the last government, condemned the budget proposals as a transparent plan to change the haredi way of life.
In particular, he criticized provisions that he said would cause haredi women, whose rate of employment is just slightly less than non-haredi women, to leave the workforce.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, Mozes added that the political ramifications for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, if he allows the budget with its provisions relating to the haredi community to pass, would be extremely costly both to him and the Likud party in the long term.
One of the most important principles of the budget with regard to the haredi community is the provision that certain state benefits be made dependent on whether both parents are employed and working to the fullest extent of their capabilities.
According to the new budget, discounts for municipal tax will continue to be means-tested but will only be granted to a household with two breadwinners who are fulfilling at least 125 percent of the potential amount of two full-time jobs, meaning that if a full time job is 40 hours a week, then the couple would need to be working a combined total of at least 50 hours a week to qualify for the benefit.
Municipal tax is a significant expense for a general household budget and many haredi households currently receive a substantial discount for it.
While 61% of haredi women work, just 48% of haredi men are employed, and so the budget clause on municipal tax will revoke the discount for many ultra- Orthodox families.
“The granting of [municipal tax discounts] on a means-tested basis without requiring the heads of the household to be employed, creates a clear disincentive against entering the work force,” the Treasury wrote in the explanatory notes on the issue.
Child daycare subsidies will also be conditioned on the employment of both heads of a household, as will the granting of housing benefits, with additional benefits available to anyone who performed military service.
Mozes claimed that the provisions on child daycare would lead many ultra- Orthodox women to leave the workforce, since the cost of paying non-subsidized childcare would be too high to make employment a viable financial option.
Hiddush, a religious-freedom lobbying group, cast doubt on this notion, saying that taken together with the other cuts to the average haredi household finances inherent in the new budget, the new terms for state benefits would leave many haredi couples with no option but for both members to seek employment.
The Treasury has also created new stipulations for the funding of ultra-Orthodox schools which demand the teaching of core curriculum subjects in order to receive full financial support from the government.
The large majority of Ashkenazi haredi male pupils in elementary schools study very little if any secular subjects.
The Sephardi haredi elementary education system teaches the full state curriculum, but almost no haredi high-school aged pupils, Ashkenazi or Sephardi, study any secular studies at all.
The new budget will require haredi schools to teach three core subjects: Mathematics, English and Hebrew or Arabic, at the same level as taught in nonharedi state schools, and submit pupils to standardized testing.
If haredi schools fail to meet this requirement they will receive a maximum of just 30% of the state funding available to state schools that teach the full requirement of hours for the three core subjects.
This 30% funding will itself be conditional on teaching 55% of the state curriculum and the submission of pupils to standardized testing.
The requirement to teach the state core curriculum will be introduced gradually over a four-year period.
“The number of pupils in haredi education institutions will reach 26% by the end of the decade,” the Treasury explained in the budget document.
“The level of employment and productivity in the haredi sector is significantly lower than in the non-haredi sector because, among other reasons, the absence of basic studies, which are a central component in the acquisition of appropriate tools for entering the workforce,” it stated.
Mozes argued that the intensive study of complex Talmudic legal texts, a major component of the haredi education system, provides pupils with keen learning abilities with which they are able to quickly assimilate secular studies in the remedial classes provided by academic colleges that offer professional degree courses for haredi students.
Asked how the haredi community would deal with the shortfall in funding if the budget is passed in its current format, Mozes said wryly “we survived Pharaoh, we’ll survive this too.”
He also hinted, none too subtly, that the budget was putting the historic ties between Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties at risk.
“We have been Bibi’s best and most loyal supporters, and our support has allowed him to remain prime minister until now,” said the MK.