From Haaretz Ireal News
By Zvi Zarahiya, Haaretz Correspondent
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Sunday told the Finance Ministry it has two weeks to complete its plans to launch a war on poverty in cooperation with the office of Vice Premier Shimon Peres.
Sharon made his demand Sunday morning in a meeting with Peres, acting Finance Minister Ehud Olmert, Housing and Construction Minister Isaac Herzog, Bank of Israel Governor Stanley Fischer and senior officials in the Finance Ministry.
Professional Finance Ministry teams will hold meetings over the next few days to put the finishing touches on its plan to reduce poverty. Budgetary modifications will be made after the first Knesset reading of the budget and before the second and third.
Funding for the program will come from the state budget.
In the meeting on Sunday, Peres said, "We cannot accept a situation in which 500,000 people are going to soup kitchens. We must examine first and foremost the humanitarian deficit and not just the financial deficit."
Peres called on the government to make substantial changes to the budget to reduce poverty in Israel.
Peres told Finance Ministry officials, "Stop saying that you are responsible for economic growth. You are also responsible for poverty. You brought us more poverty in the last two years than growth. If there is anything that caused economic growth, it is the disengagement plan."
Sharon said that changes to the budget are to be based on a plan drawn up by Peres and Herzog to fight poverty. Portions of Olmert's plan will also be included.
"We must begin to treat poverty and I expect actual results in the short-term. I ask that sources close to Peres be partners in preparing an operative plan, and I expect that by the middle of November, the plans be completed and budgeted," said the prime minister.
At the meeting, Herzog proposed a Labor Party program to fight poverty that is expected to cost NIS 4.5 billion. The principles of the plan include incentives for employers to hire new workers, increased pensions for the elderly and handicapped, aid to low wage-earners, increased spending on job training, aid for higher education and housing solutions for poor families.
Herzog said that the price of the program is half the cost of the disengagement, and that existing sources from the government must be taken and redistributed over a few years.
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