Friday, October 21

Cutting expenses the quick way: so simple to hurt the poor

One out of every 3 children in this country is poor.
A simple sentence, but what does it mean?
And how does it come about?

As usual, the story is true, the names have been changed.

Maram is 18, a high-school student. Her father died when she was a baby. Her father didn't have Israeli citizenship, so the Social Security did not recognize Maram's mother as a widow.

Maram's mother and father lived in the Occupied Territories. Maram's older sisters were born there. Because Maram's mother has Israeli citizenship, her daughters were and are supposed to receive Israeli citizenship as well.
Only Maram, who was born in Israel, has Israeli citizenship. Maram has lived in Israel all her life. In Jaffa.

Maram has 3 older sisters. One of them, the mother of a 7 year old girl, lives at Maram's house.
The husband of the sister was murdered, during the sister's pregnancy. It happened in front of the sister's eyes and left her severely traumatized, until this very day. Long hours are spent sitting and crying in front of her husband's grave.

Maram's grandmother lives at the same house, a shack really, with an asbestos roof.

The house is very clean. there is little furniture beyond some plastic chairs, mattresses covered with colorful cloths and an old table. The women have done there best with tablecloths and family photographs, to turn the place into a welcoming home.
It's pleasant to sit there at this time of the year, when it is no longer hot but not yet cold. The coffee is strong and sweet. The ice cold glass of water is a pleasure.
There is water in the fridge, but little else.

Maram's mother, who suffers from diabetes and very high blood pressure, works as an office cleaner, 2 hours every morning, 6 days a week. Her wage is 1.200 NIS a month, about 270 US $. She is, for health reasons, not allowed to work more than that and has all the necessary medical documents to prove it.

She used to receive child allowance for Maram. But since Maram turned 18, that has stopped. Yet Maram is a full time school girl, who cannot yet earn her own money. Maram's mother also used to receive an income supplement, which for some strange reason has not been paid for the last 4 months.

Maram's mother went to the Social Security office, where she was told she is no longer eligible, no reason given.
A letter written in Hebrew "officialese" states that, as she is earning 1.900 NIS a month, her income is "too high" to award her a supplement. Yet her wage is only 1.200 (before taxes).
Perhaps a burocratic mistake, but recitifying it may take months, as she will have to go to the labor court. Even if rectified, there will be no retroactive payment for the lost months.

In the mean time, the family (Maram's grandmother, mother, sister with a young child and Maram herself) have to make do with 1.200 NIS a month.
The grandmother's old age allowance is spent on medicine, rental, electricity, water and municipal taxes. The 1.200 NIS salary of Maram's mother is spent buying food, clothing, public transport etc. for 5 women.
For Maram it means never going to the movies, never having new clothes, never buying a coke or an ice cream at the school kiosk, not having all the schoolbooks you need, but worse, not always having something to eat.
A food NGO helps, but the food they donate, doesn't last very long. There is still that much month, when the food has run out.

The fridge is often empty.
So a neighbor sometimes donates a bag of rice, some bread left from yesterday. Maram gets a sandwhich at school. More than once it is the only thing she eats.
That's what it means to be "one out of three" (children are poor).

Perhaps a burocratic mistake, perhaps something which can be rectified, but Maram is often hungry.

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