Welfare cuts may force haredim to work

Dudi Zilbershlag, Chairman of the Meir Panim chain of soup kitchens, used the occasion of the publication of the National Insurance Institute's (NII) poverty report to call cuts in child allowances "a blessing" as they were pushing hundreds of haredim into the job market. Zilbershlag said on Wednesday that he established six job training centers for haredim in cooperation with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. "It's a pity the cuts were done so quickly," said Zilbershlag. "But the end result is definitely positive. More haredim are entering the job market, especially in hi-tech. And these people are diligent, hard working and trustworthy." Haredi families, which tend to have more children than the national average, were one of the hardest hit from deep cuts in child allowances that began in 2001 and continued through January 2006. Economists are split on what will be the outcome of the cuts in child allowances. Zilbershlag shares the views of right-wing economists who believe the cuts will push haredi fathers, who once could devote themselves to Torah study and still support their families with child allowances, to join the work force. In contrast, Professor Jochanan Stessman, former NII Director-General, is convinced the cuts will cause nothing but suffering for tens of thousands of haredi families. "The whole idea was a huge failure," said Stessman, who is the chairman of the Department of Geriatrics and Rehabilitation at Hadassah-University Hospital at Mount Scopus. "We've had a few years to prove that it was. Even those few people who did find work ended up receiving low-paying jobs." Stessman's views seem to be shared by the majority of the haredi voting public. At least United Torah Judaism and Shas seem to think so. Both parties have fought against the cuts. Shas managed, through political wrangling, to stop future cuts in child allowances, which were slated to continue through January 2009. Shas forced Kadima to include the halt in cuts as part of its coalition agreement. Nevertheless, most of the planned cuts have already been made. United Torah Judaism tried unsuccessfully to negotiate the reversal of past cuts. Kadima's refusal to acquiesce to the demand has kept UTJ in the opposition. The NII report, which did not give a breakdown of haredim as a distinct group, showed a sharp rise in poverty among families with four or more children. But a look at NII figures for families with four or more children before these families received welfare transfers shows a small drop in poverty.