MK looks to cancel Wisconsin plan

Eighty-three Knesset members have put their support behind a bill calling for the controversial welfare-to-work program to be scrapped.

Eighty-three Knesset members have put their support behind a bill submitted this week calling for the controversial welfare-to-work program, known as the Wisconsin Plan or Mehalev, to be scrapped. Initiated by MK Lia Shemtov (Israel Beiteinu), those who signed their names to the proposed legislation included opposition chairman MK Binyamin Netanyahu (Likud), who was involved in establishing the program when he was finance minister, and coalition chairman Avigdor Itzchaky (Kadima). According to Shemtov, MKs from across the political spectrum have joined her bid to cut the program, which has drawn criticism since it was inaugurated in August 2005 for threatening to take away people's social welfare benefits if they refuse to participate. Shemtov called on the government to discuss the matter in the next few weeks. "The cabinet needs to take note of what the majority of the Knesset wants," she wrote in a press release. "I call on Labor, Trade and Industry Minister [Eli] Yishai to change his decision to extend the program for another year and renew the contracts of the four companies running it." Last month, Yishai announced plans to make key changes to the program and to extend it to other areas of the country. The contracts of the four multi-national, for-profit companies running the program were to be extended beyond the two-year pilot, which is set to end in August. In September, the minister heard the recommendations of Hebrew University professor Yossi Tamir to make vital changes to the program such as creating personalized tracks for each participant and demanding less hours from single mothers. Yishai's advisor Yossi Farhi told The Jerusalem Post that the minister was behind the program and community empowerment group Yedid, which has been acting as a watchdog for the program, commented that a comprehensive welfare-to-work program was a positive step for Israel. Meanwhile, the Manufacturers Association of Israel said Thursday it expects the modified Wisconsin Plan introduce by Yishai would help integrate 10,000 unemployed into the production sector of the labor force within two years. "For the first time, Yishai, is introducing within the program advanced incentives suitable for the unemployed, which will provide better chances to integrate the unemployed in industry and other production sectors," said Shraga Brosh, president of the Association in a meeting with Prof. Zvi Eckstein, deputy governor of the Bank of Israel and Karnit Flug, head of the central bank's economics, during which the changes to the Wisconsin program were presented. The modified Wisconsin Plan will award companies and individuals for participation and achieved job placements rather than on the basis of cancelled welfare allowances. Incentives include personal rewards for participation in the program, financial incentive support package to help participants of the program to integrate themselves into the work place and broader professional training for participants.