The Knesset on Monday night approved a bill reinstating the “Wisconsin” welfareto- work plan, the national unemployment program which aims to ensure that unemployment beneficiaries in Israel are actively assisted in searching for jobs, or trained to acquire the necessary skills in order to integrate into the job market.

The plan had been killed off by the government in 2010, after having been criticized as ineffective. It had originally started operating in the summer of 2005 in Ashkelon, Sderot, Jerusalem, Hadera, Netanya, Nazareth and Nazareth Illit.

The new draft law aims at enabling benefit recipients to “transition from dependence on the allotments to social and economic independence,” by establishing employment centers where professionals will help the unemployed find work or ensure that they are occupied by providing them with a personalized program, which may include community service, professional training and other activities advancing their integration into the job market.

Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett said at Monday night’s plenum that the plan constitutes a “solution for tens of thousands of people.”

“This program is about taking responsibility to treat each person and find them a personalized solution,” Bennett stated. “We are not ready to give up on these people.”

Meretz MK Ilan Gilon, who was one of the leaders of the campaign to cancel the program in the 18th Knesset, addressed the ministerial committee which approved the bill and said: “When we threw [the Wisconsin Plan] out the door, you entered through the window, we drop it out the balcony and you enter through the toilet.”

“The Wisconsin Plan failed in Wisconsin, why do you want to copy a failing program from the Americans?” he added.

Gilon added that, financially, the plan is also ineffective.

According to him, finding a job for one person through the Wisconsin Plan centers costs about NIS 1,400, while it only costs NIS 99 via the Employment Service.

“Why is the price so expensive?” he asked, “Is job placement an art, handwork or macramé? Whose interest is behind this?” In a letter sent out last month, the deputy director of social policy and communication for the nonprofit organization Yedid, Ran Melamed, also addressed the issue. “I think the question is why do we need the Wisconsin Plan, when in fact it’s already operating under the public radar – fully supervised and failed, in my opinion – by the various ministries, especially the Ministry of Finance, which once again is trying to blind the eyes of the public,” he wrote.

“Anyone involved in the labor market in Israel knows that for several years, the Israeli government spent very large amounts in order to promote the employment of disadvantaged populations,” Melamed continued.

“We are talking about hundreds of millions of shekels, a significant proportion of which go to private companies like the Employment Service.”

Melamed explained that for several years, a number of government ministries have independently been operating programs aimed at integrating disadvantaged populations into the job market, in cooperation with the Employment Service and the National Insurance Institute.

“Could it be that the new Wisconsin Plan is simply an invention of the Treasury to create jobs for its cronies? Is it possible that this is a way to stick another nail in the coffin of the Employment Service?” Melamed added.

The reinstatement of the Wisconsin Plan, he said, could also be driven by the desire of some officials to save money that is today spent on benefits for the unemployed.

Employment Service workers complained Tuesday that they had not been consulted prior to the decision to reinstate the program, which will “drive unemployment benefits recipients from the Employment Service into the hands of private entrepreneurs.”

“In the past two months, we asked the Ministries of Finance and Economy to conduct discussions with us about the program,” Employment Service workers’ union chairman Ofer Levy said in a statement.

“If someone in the government thinks that we can pass this plan, which represents a fatal hit to the Employment Service and to the quality of service provided to the weakest populations in Israeli society, he is simply wrong,” he added.

According to Levy, “The Treasury prefers to spend money just to remove the government’s responsibility for the poor.”

To protest the approval, Levy said, workers are prepared “to start taking measures” on Thursday.

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