The Ministry of Social Welfare began its work in June 1948, carrying on the mission of the Social Welfare Department established in 1931 under the Mandate. The National Insurance Act of 1953 and the Social Welfare Service Law, passed by the Knesset in 1958, authorized a broad range of welfare programs, including old age and survivors' pensions, maternity insurance, workers' compensation provisions, and special allowances for large families. Retirement age was seventy for men and sixty-five for women, but persons were eligible for some benefits five years before retirement age. The Histadrut was also a principal provider of pensions and a supplier of insurance. In addition, there were a number of voluntary agencies, many funded by Diaspora Jewry, that contributed significantly to the social welfare of Israelis.
Special subventionary programs, including low-interest loans, subsidized housing, and rent or mortgage relief, were available to new immigrants after 1967 through the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption and the World Zionist Organization. At times these programs have been criticized by native-born Israelis or long-time settlers in the lower income brackets, especially for benefiting relatively well-to-do immigrants from the West. Even more controversial have been benefit programs designed to aid returning Israeli emigrants readjust to life in Israel.
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