(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israel’s flagship welfare-to-work program, the Lights to Employment program, which is often called the “Wisconsin Plan,” looks set to be disbanded at the end of this week after the Knesset’s Labor, Welfare and Health Committee failed on Wednesday to approve an extension or anchor it in legislation.
“This is not a successful program and we refuse to give it support for another three months even to discuss its future,” committee chairman MK Haim Katz said, after a bill aimed at expanding the program, which has been lauded by some as an employment success story and condemned by others as a complete failure, failed to be approved by his committee.
“We will recommend to the government to disband this program in favor of a better and fairer program to be run by the Israel Employment Service and not by private, multi-national companies that have only in their best interests at heart,” Katz said.
The program, which tries to find permanent jobs for thousands of chronically unemployed people collecting state benefits and is currently outsourced by the government to four private companies in Ashkelon/Sderot, Jerusalem, Nazareth and Hadera, has been dogged by controversy since its inception in August 2005.
During its first two years there was no shortage of sensationalist headlines citing examples of its failures, including stories of highly educated Russian immigrants being sent to fold laundry in hospital storerooms and of Muslim women, who had never before left their homes, ordered to work on back breaking gardening projects or risk forfeiting their various social welfare benefits.
However, changes to the program over the past two years, including renaming it Lights to Employment and giving people over 45 the option to join, allowed it to redeem its public credibility.
“Disbanding this program will be a real shame and is based on all the wrong reasons,” Ran Melamed, deputy director of social policy and communication for YEDID – The Association for Community Empowerment, which has been monitoring the welfare-to-work program since it started, told The Jerusalem Post
“Instead of taking a program that has problems and trying to fix it, these politicians will now have to answer to thousands of people who want to get jobs and better their lives but who will now have to stay living in poverty,” Melamed said.
Arie Syvan, CEO of Agens Israel, which runs the program in Hadera and Netanya, told the Post
that no concrete decision had been made to cancel Lights to Employment, which said today benefits about 6,000 people countrywide.
“Concerted efforts are being made to save this program, and as we see it no definite decision has been made to close it down,” said Syvan, whose service assists roughly 1,600 out-of-work people. “Even if there are some [lawmakers] who want to see it closed down, this is not the way to do it. They can’t just come two days before the extension period expires and just close the doors. We are running courses, have suppliers, transportation and other services that can’t just be stopped in a few days. If that happens, more than 6,000 people who use this program will be badly hurt.”
A decision on whether to continue and extend the program was supposed
to have been made by the cabinet late last year, but even then
legislators failed to agree on whether to make it permanent. Instead,
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu decided to extend it for three months
until a decision could be reached.
When the government announced in December that it was extending the
program for three months, National Employment Service workers, who
previously took care of services for the unemployed, immediately
announced a general strike over fears that their program could now be
in danger of closure.
According to Melamed, the debate over whether to extend or disband Lights to Employment is purely political.
“It is a power struggle,” he said. “There is little thought given to
whether it will or will not actually help the people who need help.”