As food prices rise, NGOs say gov’t war on poverty failing

Gov’t initiative "not even a drop in the ocean" says Leket CEO Gidi Kroch.

Food Aid 311 (photo credit: Leket)
Food Aid 311
(photo credit: Leket)
Welfare organizations working with the poor criticized a new government initiative to tackle poverty and food insecurity on Thursday, saying that in light of sharp increases in food prices, especially for milk products, the program’s limited budget could render it ineffective.
“The government budget [for this program] is ridiculous,” commented Gidi Kroch, CEO of Leket, Israel’s national food bank.
In coordination with the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, Leket has been selected together with humanitarian aid organization Latet to facilitate the program, which aims to address the nutritional needs of those living below the poverty line.
Both Kroch and Latet’s Executive Director Eran Weintraub said that the financial allocation for the initiative, intended to enhance food distribution for the poor and originally touted as the government’s flagship effort to tackle poverty, is little more than NIS 6 million for the next year and a half.
“What is NIS 6 million? It is not even a drop in the ocean,” said Kroch, explaining that with close to a 50 percent increase in food prices over the past year this small sum will have very little impact on the estimated 1,774,800 people living below the poverty line.
“Four years after we petitioned the supreme court demanding that the government step in to tackle poverty and three years after [Welfare Ministry Director General Nahum] Itzkowitz made his recommendations to the government, this is all the government can do to tackle poverty?” said Weintraub.
He added that the amount is only 10 percent of what was originally recommended by the welfare ministry and is only about 1 percent of what is really needed.
“We just can’t do a lot with this amount,” said Weintraub, adding that unless it is increased his organization might withdraw completely from the initiative.
“We spoke about this with the [Minister of Welfare and Social Services Moshe Kahalon] and we had a positive response but at the moment, this amount means that we will never be able to achieve what is expected of us,” he said.
“We know that the resources for this project are limited at this time but we hope that once it is up and running we will be able to show results and find more funding,” responded Ido Benjamin, advisor to the Ministry of Welfare and Social Service’s Director General Nahum Itzkowitz.
Benjamin explained that the overall budget of the program was actually closer to NIS 21 million but that it is divided between food distribution (NIS 6.5 million) and other projects such as a task force on poverty. He also said that the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) would be providing some matching funding, which would bump up the amount.
“We are facing a real problem of social injustice,” said Kroch. “There are private companies out there that are taking advantage of the situation to make a profit, while there is close to 1.8 million people living in poverty. It is time the government takes a better look at the situation.”
Weintraub commented that the inflated food prices have been hampering Latet’s work with the needy population for more than a year now but it is only now that the middle class are waking up to it.
“We welcome their efforts to address this subject,” he said, referring to a Facebook campaign launched earlier this week calling for a boycott of cottage cheese because its price has skyrocketed. “However, most middle class people can still afford to buy cottage cheese while the weaker segments of the population will just give up on such healthy products.”
He added: “The real battle should be to reduce prices so that the needy do not have to choose between food and education, or health.”