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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai approved a series of "repairs" to the government's Mehalev welfare-to-work pilot program, also known unofficially as the Wisconsin Program, he told reporters Tuesday.
"Repairs and adjustments are necessary," Yishai said. "I cannot continue with the program as it is."
The Mehalev program has been operating in a "completely different" manner over the past years than was discussed originally, Yishai charged. He said he went to the Mehalev centers and saw first hand the "distortions" in how they operated.
Primarily, the reforms have the effect of redirecting 20 percent to 25% of the Mehalev population into personalized tracks requiring less hours of participation and work per week, at the discretion of professional committees charged with judging individuals' ability to work and participate in the program.
While Mehalev participants are generally required to report to the centers for participation totalling 30 to 40 hours per week, individuals within seven years of retirement age will henceforth receive a personal program requiring only two hours of their time per week.
Chronically unemployed individuals having received income guarantee allowances for at least five of the past six years will be subject to a special program with professional attention, and exempt from regular participation. Those undergoing rehabilitation programs will also be directed to an employment track integrating the rehabilitation care.
The mentally or physically disabled, as well as anyone suffering from psychological and social problems, will also benefit from an individual employment track separate from normal participation in Mehalev.
New immigrants with professional licensing will be able to continue studies as part of the program.
More leave days will be granted to participants with sick or hospitalized relatives, and those moving to cities outside of the pilot areas will be allowed to quit the program.
Yishai stressed that the professional committee granting reduced work hours or exemptions in exceptional cases would operate independently of the companies running the Mehalev centers.
"From the moment they were dependent on the centers, unfortunately, the results reflected that," said Yishai. The centers will also have to provide Hebrew language courses and child care.
Private companies operate four Mehalev pilot projects in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Hadera-Wadi Ara and Ashkelon-Sderot.
The proposals were submitted by a commission appointed by Yishai in June and headed by Prof. Yossi Tamir, a Hebrew University expert on social work.
Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry Director-General Gavriel Maimon also said that the program's structure would eventually be changed so that companies would be paid per job placement achieved, not per welfare allowance cancelled.
"The economic model as it was constructed is somewhat problematic. Today I think we are all aware of that," he said.
Of the more than 18,000 participants directed to the Mehalev pilot in August 2005, some 7,300 have received more than 10,000 job placements, leading to 8,100 participants with jobs, more than 40% in full-time positions. By the end of July there were 12,500 participants left in the pilot. In the past year, participants have submitted 1,400 appeals against their treatment, of which 24% were found to be either partially or fully justified.
A ministerial team will compile data on the program and draw conclusions about the success of the Mehalev pilot as a whole.
Mehalev program director Dorit Novak defended the program as "the most important social program today in Israel," capable of bringing about a "very big change" in the lives of the country's unemployed, whom she called "the weak link of Israeli society."
Novak also protested what she described as efforts by some in the media to depict her as an advocate of "some evil capitalist approach," and cited her background working in social organizations in her defense.