Wheelchair (illustrative)
Wheelchair (illustrative)Israel news photo: aftau.org

Disability benefits for some 200,000 Israelis are set to improve, according to a disability rights panel headed by National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi) director general Esther Dominissini. The current package of benefits for those who are listed as disabled and already receive "nachut" stipends will allegedly be increased by a total of NIS 200 million, according to the new agreement. 

Among the new benefits will be an incremental increase for parent of children with severe disabilities of NIS 593 -- 28 percent -- over the next two years, raising their monthly stipends from NIS 2,860 to a total of NIS 3,072 by 2013. Adults with severe emotional or mental disabilities will receive a monthly increase of NIS 244, with a one-time payout for those with severe disabilities who currently receive special services.

Severely disabled children who are unable to attend programs outside the home will be able to receive in-home care for up to eight hours a day. The goal of such a benefit is to allow their parents to return to the work force. In addition, the Social Services / Welfare Ministry will expand after-school programs for disabled children by 1,000 slots and extend the programs until 4:00 p.m. Subsidies for electricity and public housing were also agreed upon, although the exact figures were not made available.

Israelis who receive full disability benefits at present are entitled to a monthly sum of barely NIS 2,400 per month, equalling less than $650. Protesters had called for the monthly benefit to be raised at least to meet the monthly full-time minimum wage of all other Israelis, a sum of NIS 4,100 (approximately $1,100). In addition, protesters had demanded a discount on utility bills for those with disabilities as well. Taxes on utilities are especially high, making an already expensive commodity even more difficult to maintain.

Social Services Minister Moshe Kahlon expressed satisfaction with the agreement, but said there was still a long way to go. "We will continue to improve the standard of living for people with disabilities," he said, "as well as for all disadvantaged groups in our society."

Disabilities rights organizations fought fiercely for the improvement in benefits for their clients, who have not had a raise in stipends in at least nine years.

The panel appointed by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu included representatives from the Prime Minister's Office, NGOs representing those with disabilities, and the Finance Ministry.