With most schools shut for months due to the coronavirus, hundreds of thousands of needy school-age children have not been getting the hot meals they are entitled to even though funding is available. While food aid charities are doing what they can to fill the void, the problem stems from the far-right government’s inability to get organized, the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Rights of the Child, chaired by Hadash MK Youssef Jabareen (Joint List), learned on Tuesday, November 24.
Around 420,000 pupils in kindergartens and elementary schools are eligible by law for a daily hot meal. Towards this end NIS 600 million have been allocated. However, during the more than eight months that most schools have been shut due to the coronavirus pandemic, hundreds of thousands of these children are being deprived of the hot meals they are entitled to because government ministries and local authorities have been incapable of coordinating distribution, despite funding being available.
Starting with the first lockdown, the Education Ministry stopped distributing meals. Meanwhile, the Social Welfare Ministry told the Knesset committee that the meals it has distributed to 100,000 homes included some 35,000 children and youths, of whom around 18,000 were on the Education Ministry’s lists.
Haim Halperin, the Education Ministry official responsible for the school meals program, was unable to provide any figures on the number of schoolchildren who have received meals. He said he understood that the authority to distribute the food had been transferred to the Israeli Military’s Home Front Command, but had not received reports from them. “If you told me these children were getting food through a different framework, I’d say fine,” said committee chairman Jabareen, “but you can’t say that because you don’t have the figures! Tens of thousands of hungry children got hot meals for years, and today, nobody can tell me what is happening with them? This should keep all of us up at night.” Halperin confirmed that whatever of the NIS 600 million allocated for school meals is not used goes back to the Treasury. He was unable to say how much of that money had been used so far this year.