NGOs slam Treasury for cuts that will hurt the weak

Plans include reduction of child support payments by 10%, freezing of NII benefits until 2010 and cutting unemployment welfare.

Social welfare groups and even some government ministers expressed anger Thursday that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's proposals for severe budget cuts would cause serious harm to the country's weakest populations. "It appears that the main mission of the Finance Ministry is to increase the number of needy people in this country," said Eran Weintraub, director of humanitarian aid organization Latet. "This economic program sends a clear message to Israel's citizens that their government does not care about them." Among the recommendations, which will be presented to the cabinet next week, are plans to cut child support payments by 10 percent, freeze National Insurance Institute benefits until 2010 and cut unemployment welfare to 45 days for those under 35, 60 days for those 35-40 and 90 days for those over the age of 40. "The prime minister and the finance minister are demonstrating cruelty and a complete lack of caring towards the weak and needy in our society," said Weintraub. "They have divorced themselves of all responsibility in dealing with poverty or socio-economic gaps and continue to show how disconnected they are from the reality in this country." The proposed plan also looks to make serious cutbacks to the absorption package for new immigrants and the government package handed out to new mothers. If implemented, the plan will mean that women on maternity leave receive only 80% of their salaries instead of the current 100% and will be forced to pay NIS 50 a day for hospitalization during labor and afterwards. Grants afforded to parents for new children are also slated to be slashed. Na'amat President Talia Livni responded that women are not too naive to understand that these cutbacks come at their expense and asked whether hurting maternity leave payments, child benefits, working mothers, single-parents and widows were the "new Bibi?" "The prime minister needs to decide if he wants to create a political breakdown or find an acceptable solution to the financial crisis," said Minister of Welfare and Social Services Isaac Herzog. "This budget proposal is completely unacceptable and unrealistic." Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver also spoke out against the plan Thursday, claiming that any cutbacks to assistance for new immigrants could be extremely damaging to that population. "The Finance Ministry has to understand that all new immigrants who arrive in this country must undergo a very difficult process of acclimatization," explained Landver. "That process requires the state to provide the necessary tools to ensure a successful integration."