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With the message that the welfare-to-work Wisconsin program has been a disaster from the start, close to 100 social activists and program participants demonstrated outside the Prime Minister's office and Finance Ministry Wednesday to call on the government to immediately cancel the program.
"This is a program for people to profit from, not to help the unemployed find work," stated Ronit Shimoni, Coordinator of Human Response, a social action organization that helps residents in Ashkelon understand their rights.
The Wisconsin Plan, which is called Mehalev in Hebrew, was started in August 2005 and is being run as two-year pilot in four locations - Jerusalem, Ashkelon-Sderot, Nazareth and Hadera-Wadi Ara - by four multi-national companies.
Although official figures claim that more than 10,000 people have managed to find either permanent or temporary employment via the program, the plan's stringent rules have come under constant fire for attempting to force the elderly, disabled and those totally unsuitable for employment to participate or have their social welfare benefits stopped. The companies involved in running the program have also been criticized for earning a percentage each time someone is taken off of welfare benefits.
"We are calling on [Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert to immediately cancel the program," said Shimoni, who has been actively protesting Mehalev since it was inaugurated.
Program participant Ibrahim Aweida, who also attended Wednesday's rally, said that he and his wife had severely suffered as a result of the program's demanding schedule and its inflexibility.
"My wife, who was pregnant with twins, was forced to go out and look for a job even though she had been told she needed to be on bed rest. As a result she lost both our babies," he told The Jerusalem Post. "They said that if she did not participate we would lose our benefits. Now we have lost our babies.
"The government blames us for the failure of this program saying that we do not want to work, but we do. There are just no jobs," he added.
Last month, 83 Knesset members backed a bill, initiated by MK Lia Shemtov (Yisrael Beiteinu) calling for the program to be scrapped. Several weeks later Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Eli Yishai, who had conducted his own research into the program, also asked for the prime minister to create an alternative plan.
Olmert has agreed to set up an inter-ministerial committee to help draft drastic changes to the controversial welfare-to-work program Mehalev, also know as the Wisconsin Plan.
In recent weeks, Olmert agreed to set up an inter-ministerial committee to look into the program and called on MKs Avigdor Itzchaky (Kadima), Marina Solodkin (Kadima), Lia Shemtov (Yisrael Beiteinu) and Ze'ev Elkin (Kadima), as well as social activist groups to submit their suggestions. Olmert is expected to make a decision in the coming weeks.
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