Catch-22 in welfare funding for towns: Only the rich ones get it
By Dana Weiler-Polak
The Social Affairs Ministry is conditioning its support for welfare services provided by local authorities on partial funding by the communities themselves. Local governments with limited resources, including many Arab communities, are unable to meet the requirements set by the ministry. That means that state funding for social services goes to wealthier communities that can afford to contribute rather than the needier ones that cannot.
A ministry committee is exploring a reform of the social welfare system, but according to an interim report provided by the committee, the system of matching of funding is to remain in place.
Under the current system for allocating funding for local welfare departments, the Social Affairs Ministry conditions every NIS 75 in funding on a matching contribution by local governments of NIS 25.
"There are welfare services in Arab communities," the director of welfare services in Peki'in, Emil Sema'an, said, "but in practice there is not a lot of welfare [service] because of a lack of funding. About 30 [local] authorities don't pay salaries to their employees, so they certainly cannot meet the 25 percent matching criterion and maintain [facilities] that we have wanted to open for children at risk or the elderly. Things have a price."
The committee's interim conclusions indicate that the gap in social welfare services and the amount spent per client in various localities is caused by the fact that disadvantaged governments cannot put up the required matching funds. The monies earmarked for them remain at the Social Affairs Ministry. Wealthier local governments can receive these unused funds by matching the amounts using the same 75:25 formula, thus increasing their own welfare budgets - and the gap between them and less well-off communities - even more.
"Since he took office, Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog has been working to aid the non-Jewish sector," the ministry said in response. "Among other things, he decided to give priority in providing budgets to disadvantaged authorities including Arab authorities. In addition, many projects are being developed at the ministry in the non-Jewish sector, projects that are fully funded by the ministry."
Ruth Carmi of the Israel Religious Action Center, the legal advocacy arm of Israel's Reform movement, said: "The system of funding must change, so that welfare departments in poorer communities receive significant state funding, so that gaps can be reduced among local governments. I call upon the social affairs minister to take up the gauntlet and change the faulty system of funding and initiate an alternative funding system, [which is] fair and also supports Arab [local] councils, the vast majority of which are in difficult financial straits."