The full research is available in Hebrew only.
Over the past decade, Israel has adopted a number of policy tools to deal with the issue of food insecurity. In 2021, during the COVID-19 crisis, the Ministry of Interior operated a program distributing food vouchers that assisted some 354,000 families. In the second half of 2023, the government announced that it had budgeted the renewed operation of the program to be carried out in two pulses — in 2023 and in 2024, based on the experience during the pandemic. In September 2023, the first pulse was completed. Taub Center researchers Prof. John Gal, Ori Oberman, and Nir Kaidar looked at the operation of the program in 2021 and its efficacy in dealing with food insecurity. On the basis of the results of their analysis, they recommended making some essential changes to ensure that the best possible use is made of the funds.
The target population of the food voucher program in 2021 was defined as “families detrimentally affected economically by the COVID crisis.” The amount of assistance was determined by the number of household members and the vouchers were distributed to qualifying families in three pulses over the course of the year. In each pulse, the head of household and his/her partner received a credit of NIS 300 each, and additional family members were each credited with NIS 225, up to a maximum of NIS 2,400.
The income levels set by the Ministry of Interior (which was responsible for the implementation of the program) differed considerably to the poverty level criterion set by the National Insurance Institute. As can be seen in the figure, the eligibility levels set by the Ministry of Interior were such that the marginal income per family member for a family of up to 4 members was far below that of the poverty line (that is, a lower level of eligibility than would be prescribed by the poverty line), and for a family of 6 or more, it was above (a less stringent criterion). That is, clear preference was given to larger families.
According to the Ministry of Interior data, 322,420 families received food vouchers for an average value of NIS 2,179 per family, at an overall cost of NIS 703 million. Actual use of the vouchers amounted to NIS 634 million — 97%. For purposes of their analysis, the researchers also looked at National Insurance Institute data on poverty at the local authority level.
The share of families receiving assistance in Haredi localities was greater than the number of families living in poverty in those localities
The study examined the disparity between the proportion of families receiving food vouchers and the poverty rate among families in each locality. It was found that, on average nationally, the share of families receiving assistance was less than the share of families under the poverty line by about 10% (a negative gap). In some of the Haredi localities, the gap was positive or zero. Even in Haredi localities where there was a negative gap, it was under the national average. In contrast, in the majority of Bedouin localities there was a negative gap, and overall, it was greater than the national average gap. In this sector, the negative gap that was the greatest was between the share of families who received vouchers and the those living under the poverty line — a gap of 24%.
These findings indicate a lack of objective criteria for the distribution of assistance. It appears that the Haredi population received more vouchers than the number of families living below the poverty line, while in other sectors there was a lack of sufficient vouchers to meet the needs of the population.
Clientelism in the distribution of food vouchers
Clientelism is a phenomenon in which politicians use their power to distribute resources to gain political support. The phenomenon is known world-wide and is widespread primarily in developing countries. In an international comparison, the level of clientelism in Israel today is similar to that in Italy and the United States, higher than what is common in welfare states such as Germany and Sweden, and lower than the level in Hungary and Türkiye. The study findings raise fears that there is a trend towards a return to clientelism in Israel.
In order to continue dealing with food insecurity in the future, the Taub Center recommends three policy directions:
- Renewing the food voucher program with an improved plan supplying food vouchers in sufficient numbers to those suffering from clear food insecurity
- Extending the program to address food insecurity currently undertaken on a national level by the Ministry of Welfare
- Widening the social security program for marginalized populations