State examines ways to provide food for the poor

Voluntary groups feed 200,000 Israeli families, according to philanthropic organization.

Minister of Welfare and Social Services Yitzhak Herzog established an interministerial committee to study the best way to provide food for the poor, the state has informed the High Court of Justice in response to a petition set to be heard on Wednesday. However, a professor of social work at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem said he disagreed with the two options under consideration by the committee. Herzog established the committee in response to a petition filed by Latet, a private philanthropic organization that operates a food bank that distributes food to soup kitchens providing meals for the poor. In the petition, which Latet filed in February, the organization called on the state to provide a minimum of "food security" to the poor. The organization charged that private, voluntary organizations feed 200,000 Israeli families. "The interministerial committee is conducting an orderly examination procedure at government level on this issue, including gathering information, hearing testimony from people involved in this subject in and out of government as well as academic experts," the state's representative, attorney Einav Golomb, wrote in her response to the petition. "Given this fact, [the court] should allow the committee to finish its work before holding a hearing on the petition." She said Israel, like most countries, does not give food directly to the poor, but provides additional income in the form of income guarantees and child payments. Nevertheless, the committee is considering the possibility of subsidizing the private food banks and kitchens. Hebrew University's Prof. Johnny Gal said then-finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu severely cut these payments as part of an economic recovery plan instituted in 2003 and they have remained too low ever since. Today, for example, a family of four in which the parents are unemployed and the children receive child payments is situated 48 percent below the poverty line. "The amount of money given by the state is very clearly not enough," Gal told The Jerusalem Post. He said the other option under consideration by the committee was a food-stamp system to be operated by the government. But that the system would not work well in Israel, he added, and even in the US, where it is instituted, there are many problems with it.