UTJ seeks new 'welfare' grants

Coalition talks intensify over debate on added funding to large families.

poverty garbage 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
poverty garbage 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resumed his effort to broaden his coalition on Thursday with a series of meetings with United Torah Judaism's representatives, but the sides have yet to reach an agreement. One solution now being examined by UTJ and the Finance Ministry is a special "welfare payment" that will be given to families with five children or more. The main areas of contention between UTJ and Kadima are the child benefits that were drastically cut by the last government and the clause in the coalition guidelines that commits the new government to legislation that will enable civil marriage for couples who cannot marry under Halacha. UTJ claims that the agreement that Shas reached with Kadima over these issues is insufficient. The party is demanding that the government not only forgo future cuts to child benefits but that it increase them. The Finance Ministry is adamantly opposed to any increase in welfare benefits, and Justice Minister Haim Ramon, who is taking part in the negotiations, suggested that a special payment can be made only to especially large families with low incomes. Ramon's idea is that only families in which one of the members is employed will be eligible for the payment, which is supposed to be around NIS 500 a month. UTJ leaders said that Ramon's suggestion is "interesting," but that there were "still major differences to be bridged." The party is still demanding that the government not go ahead with civil marriage and seeking an additional position of deputy minister for MK Meir Porush, in addition to the post of deputy minister of social affairs promised to MK Avraham Ravitz and MK Ya'acov Litzman continuing as chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee. Both sides are eager to finalize an agreement by the beginning of next week, before UTJ's senior rabbis, Ya'acov Alter and Aharon Steinman, depart for a fund-raising tour of the US, and the Finance Committee begins preparing the budget for its second and third readings. Olmert also convened a meeting of the heads of the coalition Knesset factions during which he exhorted them to ensure that all their members vote in favor of the budget and other coalition motions. Olmert and the Kadima leadership are anxious that the rebellions that bedeviled the coalition in its first week - Kadima MK Marina Solodkin walking out of the vote affirming the government Thursday and Labor MKs Yoram Marciano and Shelly Yacimovich absenting themselves from the budget's first reading - won't repeat themselves.