The government giveth and the government taketh away – with the same hand, apparently, and MK Rabbi Yisrael Eichler (United Torah Judaism), chairman of the Knesset Special Committee for Public Affairs, is up in arms about it. Some 10 percent of families who qualified for a retroactive payment this week from the National Insurance Institute (Bituach Leumi) found that their payments had been seized – by the same NII that gave them the money in the first place.
“I imagine that the NII had a right to act in this manner,” said MK Rabbi Eichler. “But just because it had a right to do so does not mean it was the right thing to do.”
On Sunday, the government approved an increase in the sums paid by the NII for child allowances, increasing them by some 15 percent retroactive to January. The money was due because of a previously approved increase in child allowance payments that had been held up because the state budget had not been approved until the end of last month. With the budget approved, the NII issued payments for families that were supposed to have gotten the increase retroactively, with the one-time payment reaching as much as hundreds of shekels for families with large numbers of children.
However, it appeared that some 10 percent of the recipients of the funds had their payments taken back immediately – in order to satisfy outstanding debts to the NII. In some cases, individuals owed money to the organization because they had been unable to pay due to unemployment or other issues, MK Eichler said, after his committee had received dozens of complaints about the matter. When that happens, the NII usually seizes child allowance and other payments due in order to satisfy a recipient’s debt.
That still doesn’t make it right, said MK Rabbi Eichler. “We received a great deal of complaints about this. Imagine a mother of four children who was expecting this payment, either making plans for it or even buying necessities in advance that she expects to be able to pay for with the money – and then finding that as soon as it was deposited in her account, it was swiped back again, for a years’-old debt.”
Moshe Amit, head of collections for the NII, responded to a request by MK Rabbi Eichler that the money be returned to recipients by saying that “I promise that we will review all the cases, and do what we can to restore the funds, and at least refund the money that was deducted to pay for penalties and interest on the old debts,” he said, adding that the money would likely be at least partially refunded by February.