The Israeli Knesset received praise for the swift passing last week of a bill to increase spending on Holocaust survivors. The plan, proposed by Finance Minister Yair Lapid and Welfare Minister Meir Cohen, significantly raises the financial benefits of roughly 193,000 Holocaust survivors, while reducing the bureaucratic tangle they must face to access such aid.
The bill is called “The National Plan for Aiding Survivors of the Holocaust,” and includes increases in the monthly stipends of survivors in various categories. It also streamlines access to certain benefits for which survivors arriving in Israel after 1953 were not previously eligible.
NIS 277 million ($80 million/ €50 million) per year will be dedicated to raising the stipends for this group, roughly 18,500 people, from NIS1,500-1,800 per month to between 5,400-8,800, based on need. Another NIS 166 million will go towards raising the overall minimum stipend from 1,825 to 2,200 for a different group of survivors, numbering some 88,000.
The plan eliminates survivors’ co-pay on medication, currently 50 percent. The estimated cost is NIS 130 million a year.
Other benefits will be increased and made more accessible, as well, at a cost of NIS 288 million per year. Instead of NIS 4,000 every two years in reimbursements for optometry or dental expenses, for example, survivors will be able to claim up to NIS 3,600 a year, without having to present a receipt first. Welfare and psychological services to survivors will also get a funding boost to the tune of NIS 70 million annually.
Widowed spouses of survivors will see the extension of the NIS 2,000 monthly stipend they receive beyond its current three year limit. As well, some 9,000 survivors classified by the Finance Ministry as “destitute” will receive an additional NIS 2,000 annual stipend.
“This won’t solve all the problems, it won’t compensate them for the lost years, but tonight the Holocaust survivors know that we are there for them,” the finance minister added.
“The approval of the law to increase aid to Holocaust survivors is an important and welcome step in the national mission entrusted to us – to ensure the welfare and dignity of Holocaust survivors in their later years,” Aviva Silberman, founder and chairwoman of the group Spring for Holocaust Survivors, declared Tuesday.
“The next step must be the relief of bureaucratic procedures in attaining these rights – from the adoption of a lenient approach by the medical committees that the survivors, under… the new law, must pass through, to activities initiated by the state in favor of raising awareness among the survivors and their families of their rights, and providing guidance and advice in addressing the process,” she said.
MK Yifat Kariv (Yesh Atid), chairwoman of the Lobby for Holocaust Survivors and a third-generation survivor herself, said, “The State of Israel is, for the first time, taking responsibility and will work with the survivors in an unmediated manner. The State of Israel is fulfilling its duty to [provide] life with dignity for all survivors living with us today.”
Prior to the vote, Lapid said that “this is not just about amending legislation; it is about correcting a bureaucratic injustice.
“Today we are changing the priorities and correcting the injustice that Holocaust survivors have had to deal with simply because they were not a top priority. It is not just the money that is being given to them; it is the simplification of the bureaucratic process.”
He added that “after the bill passes, our real test will be in its implementation. The survivors, who are departing from us daily, do not have time to wait.”
The bill passed its second reading with 50 in favor and none opposed. In the third and final reading, 48 were in favor and none opposed.