'Crisis could create 150,000 new poor'

Welfare official warns economic situation might drive 100,000-150,000 to seek government assistance.

poor 248.88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
poor 248.88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Some 100,000-150,000 more Israelis will soon need government financial assistance as a result of the economic crisis, Nahum Itzkovitz, director-general of the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, said Tuesday. He spoke at the Sderot Conference on Social Issues held at the Sapir Academic College. During his address, Itzkovitz demanded that funds be added to the ministry's budget so it could handle the expected increase in demand for unemployment benefits. "There will be significant growth in the number of new poor people and the ministry won't be able to assist all of them," Itzkovitz said. He even went as far as saying that if the social services did not receive additional funding, they would be unable to prevent cases such as the recent murder of Rose Pizem, the four-year-old girl from Netanya who was allegedly drowned by her grandfather in Tel Aviv's Yarkon River earlier this year. "Even if we were to receive a report about Rose, it is more than likely that we would not manage to take care of the case, because of a massive waiting list," he said. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv stocks jumped more than 5 percent on Tuesday after the Treasury unveiled an NIS 11 billion financial plan to bolster the capital market and ease the credit shortage in an effort to help distressed companies survive and avert layoffs. The four-point plan will provide capital and guarantees, as well as tax exemptions for overseas investors to encourage investment in the local market and boost liquidity. NIS 6b. will be allocated as guarantees to the banks for the raising of capital. Prof. Dov Chernichovsky from the Department of Health Systems Management at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev said those most likely to suffer from the economic crisis were senior citizens, especially those who lived on their provident funds or overseas pensions, people in service industries and nonprofessional employees in the export sector. The number of jobseekers rose by 1.1 percent during October and stood at 193,200, up from 191,100 in September, the National Employment Service said on Monday. Zvi Eckstein, the deputy governor of the Bank of Israel, warned that the current wave of layoffs was liable to reach thousands of employees. This week, the ministry and National Insurance Institute presented a plan to ease eligibility requirements for unemployment benefits. The plan would require a shorter period of employment to be eligible for benefits, and further eases requirements for residents of the periphery. Health Minister Ya'acov Ben-Yizri, who attended the conference as well, added a warning of his own, saying that if the government doesn't channel additional resources to the health system there will be "a catastrophe. We have reached a situation in which instead of 2.9 beds per 1,000 people in the hospitals, we have only 1.9 beds." The Finance Ministry's budget supervisor, Ram Belnikov, told the panel participants that Israel faced a "not simple year of economic problems and uncertainty." The budget deficit in 2009 is expected to be higher than the Finance Ministry had anticipated. Instead of NIS 7 billion, it might surpass NIS 20b., Belnikov said. Representatives of social advocacy organizations demanded they receive financial assistance from the state, just as the government plans to assist the private sector. In an urgent letter to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Rachel Liel, director-general of Shatil-The New Israel Fund's Empowerment and Training Center for Social Change, and Ran Melamed, deputy director-general of Yedid-The Association for Community Empowerment, demanded increased governmental support for nongovernmental organizations that employ thousands of people. The letter was signed by dozen of prominent NGOs. "Many organizations face financial collapse... which indicates the Israeli market is heading toward a severe employment crisis, and the weak sectors will be the first to suffer it," the letter read. Chernichovsky ended the Sderot Conference panel on a positive note, saying Israel was strong enough to survive the recession and to prevent a social crisis. "This is true only if a long-term work plan is prepared in advance," he said. Sharon Wrobel contributed to this report.