Following months of delays that saw bitter disputes between disability groups, the Labor and Social Services Ministry and the Finance Ministry, the Knesset passed a bill for a NIS 4.34 billion increase in disability allotments.
The legislation approved on Monday night was to be based upon an agreement signed in September with the Histadrut labor federation and disability groups, in which the cabinet approved a NIS 4.2b. increase in disability benefits over the next four years.
However, the final text presented for a vote included numerous changes, primarily an increase in disability allotments to only NIS 3,700 within four years’ time as opposed to the NIS 4,000 originally stipulated.
Knesset Welfare Committee chairman Eli Alalouf (Kulanu) presented the bill, which will affect some 250,000 people with disabilities, and acknowledged that it was “not enough.”
“This is the most difficult law I had the privilege to be involved with. But for such laws and such moments it is worthwhile to be an MK,” he said, adding that the bill would not have come to fruition with the “great, special, noble, and very convincing struggle of the disabled themselves.”
The main reason for the changes in the legislation is that it will encompass a larger number of disabled people than was originally intended.
The allotments will be provided in three installments, as opposed to four, with the first installment due March 1, 2018, and the third and fourth installments to be allocated in 2020 and 2021.
As such, disability allotments will increase between NIS 470 and NIS 770 per month and will include an additional monthly pension to the general disability benefit – which to date was only given to people with an 80% and above disability – totaling some NIS 450.
These additions will increase the allotments from NIS 2,342 to NIS 3,270 at the end of the first installment.
As such, the allotments will increase to “a minimum of NIS 3,700” at the end of the third installment and may (or may not) go as high as NIS 4,000.
Additionally, the allotments will only be linked to the average wage in the economy in 2022, and not with the first installment as was initially agreed.
“The goal was and remains an increase in [disability] allotments to equal the minimum wage [which recently rose to NIS 5,300 per month] and the proposal approved by the cabinet is a first and meaningful step toward this,” Labor and Social Services Minister Haim Katz said after the vote.
Katz, who had fiercely advocated for the bill, said that as the minister responsible for the disabled population, he fought the Finance Ministry to improve their conditions. He noted that while there were changes to the final legislation, this was still a significant improvement.
“After the allotments were not updated for 16 years, this day can certainly be defined as historical,” he said.
MK Ilan Gilon (Meretz) said: “People with disabilities are all people, this is a mutual insurance for everyone, this is not an acquired status, you don’t choose to become disabled.”
He reminded that his original proposal, together with MK Karin Elharar (Yesh Atid) was to increase disability allotments to equal the minimum wage – “the most basic wage that we think a person needs in order to overcome his immediate level of existential anxiety.”
Eight-four MKs voted in favor of the bill with none opposed and no abstentions.
Opposition factions were torn as to whether support the bill or not, with some arguing it does not go far enough. Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz and his supporters vocally argued against the bill, but in the end, the faction voted to back it, because it was better than nothing.
“It’s not what we wanted, and less than we hoped for,” Zionist Union faction chairman Yoel Hasson explained, “but it’s much better than the what was [before the law passed]. I’m very happy to have had the privilege to vote for this bill.”
Disability groups, however, expressed outrage and said they felt the government had “duped” them by not sticking to the agreement. Several groups said they would relaunch their protests shutting down highways throughout the country.