Cuts to haredi sector yield mixed results

State support for yeshivas, child allotments, periphery housing slashed, but other benefits are not tied to joining the workforce.

Haredim in Mea Shearim 370 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Haredim in Mea Shearim 370
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The government, with Yesh Atid in the vanguard, has successfully adopted a number of measures to curb state benefits enjoyed by the haredi sector but has yet to fulfill all promises made during the election and coalition-building period.
Significant cutbacks have been made to budgets for yeshivas, child allotments and subsidized housing, but other promised reforms – such as conditioning receipt of state benefits on being employed or seeking employment – have been delayed, according to Hiddush, a religious equality lobbying group that compiled a report on the government’s recent measures.
The stated goal behind many of the reforms is to increase motivation in the haredi sector to join the workforce, but haredi parties have strenuously opposed the steps, labeling them draconian.
One of the most significant cutbacks has been made to the budget for higher yeshivas for post-high school students and married men.
The official budget stood at NIS 909 million, although various add-ons increased it to as much as NIS 1.2 billion a year.
The new budget has cut this figure down to NIS 649m. for 2013 and NIS 422m. for 2014.
Another big cut has been made to grants provided for those buying a home in provincial areas away from the main urban centers.
At the beginning of November the government will cancel a grant of NIS 100,000 that has hitherto been given to anyone buying a home in one of 30 towns around the country, including the new planned city of Harish, just east of Hadera, and a new neighborhood called Har Yona in Upper Nazareth. Both locales were being constructed principally for the haredi sector. Cancellation of the grant for these two projects alone has cut half a billion shekels from the budget according to Hiddush.
Budget cuts to child allotments have also been implemented.
Before 2003, a fourth child and higher in any given family was eligible for a larger allotment than the first three, on an increasing scale for every further child born to that family.
This greatly benefited haredi, as well as Arab, families who generally have more children than the average Israeli household. The increasing scale for child allotments was abolished for children born after June 2003 and gradually reduced for those who were already eligible before that date.
According to the new budget, the maximum payment for such children will be NIS 350 as opposed to the previous sum of NIS 500.
Child allotments for all other children, regardless of what number child in the family they are, is NIS 140. This will mean another NIS 2.5b. will be saved.
Despite these cuts, Hiddush noted that several important issues have not been sufficiently addressed. One such item is a failure to implement the conditioning of all state benefits on being employed, or seeking employment, for anyone fit to work.
It was expected that Yesh Atid would push for such a policy, but only two benefits so far have been conditioned on this principle – subsidized housing and child day care – which will be implemented only on a gradual time scale.
Discounts in municipal tax, which were slated to be conditioned on employment status, will now be discussed separately from the budget.
Hiddush director and Reform Rabbi Uri Regev said that the measures taken should be welcomed as part of the overall plan to increase the participation of haredi men in the workforce, noting that the steps taken were made possible by the exclusion of haredi parties from the government.
At the same time, Regev said that the other promised reforms, especially the conditioning of the rest of state benefits on employment status, were crucial in incentivizing full-time yeshiva students to enter the workforce.