On Tuesday, the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services announced that over 8,500 Holocaust survivors have contacted their offices in recent weeks as a result of a public service campaign regarding survivors' rights and benefits. The governmental Hotline for Holocaust Survivors' Rights has handled over 50,000 cases in just over six months.

The hotline, operated by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services and the Pensioners Affairs Ministry, was established in February of this year to assist Israeli Holocaust survivors in taking advantage of the social welfare benefits the state offers them. The objective of the hotline, as stated by the ministries involved, is to facilitate "historical and social justice" for the 250,000 Holocaust survivors currently living in Israel.

Over the course of the past several weeks, a public service campaign in national media called on survivors and their families to call the hotline for information regarding their or their loved ones' rights. The broadcasts, in Hebrew and Russian, were organized and funded jointly by the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services, the Pensioners Affairs Ministry, the Finance Ministry and the Office of the Prime Minister.

According to statistics released by the Welfare and Social Services Ministry, more than half of the thousands of calls to the hotline in the past few weeks came from people who have not previously explored their welfare benefits as Holocaust survivors. Such benefits include grants, rebates, discounts, assistance and other government allocations which many survivors were apparently unaware of due to the complicated government bureaucracy.

Another reason for increased calls to the hotline may be the National Insurance Institute decision, taken August 1, 2009, to raise the ceiling for income subsidies. This decision also affects specific benefits offered to Holocaust survivors. The new NII benefits may provide up to 10,000 more shekels in annual support for qualifying survivors, many of whom will fall within the NII criteria for the first time. The earmarked survivor grants are to be provided by the Finance Ministry and the Holocaust Victims' Asset Restitution Company.

Additionally, in June of this year the Holocaust Victims' Asset Restitution Company informed a Knesset committee that it will be providing food packages to 3,000 survivors this year. This represents a 75 percent cutback as compared to the 12,000 packages distributed by the organization in 2008.

The Hotline for Holocaust Survivors' Rights can be reached in Israel by dialing *9444. There is no charge for the call or services provided.

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