Government adopts new welfare program

Program based on Chicago Federation initiative.

bituach leumi 311 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
bituach leumi 311
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
In a move that could partially offset the cancellation two months ago of the welfare- to-work initiative known as the Wisconsin Plan, the Welfare and Social Services Ministry has decided to use a program created by the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago (JUF) as a model to help people break the cycle of poverty, get off welfare benefits and get back into the labor market, The Jerusalem Post learned Monday.
The four-year-old program is currently funded by the JUF in the southern town of Kiryat Gat and receives up to $250,000 a year in funding from the Chicago Jewish community for every cohort of 50 families over a two-year period. It has already helped some 150 families listed with social services to get off welfare benefits and return to work.
“Project Chance provides the opportunity for people to take responsibility for their own futures, and most of those given this opportunity have taken full advantage,” Linda Epstein, associate vice president of JUF and Israel office director, told the Post.
She added that “[the JUF] and its donors have always tried to support vulnerable populations in Israel, but it is particularly satisfying to help those who want to help themselves.”
Under the Kiryat Gat model, families are enrolled in the program for a two-year period. During that time, they take part in empowerment workshops and receive vocational training and practical advice on how to manage their household finances. They are also taught about their rights as employees, are assisted in finding appropriate settings for their children, and even provided with essential materials such as beds, refrigerators and dental treatment. Each family’s needs are assessed and responded to as required.
The Wisconsin Plan had been the government’s premier program to help the chronically unemployed get back into the labor force. However, since its inception in 2006, it was dogged with controversy. Many social rights groups claimed it was not effective and did not treat its unemployed participants fairly.
Welfare and Social Services Ministry Director-General Nahum Itzkovitz told the Post that the new program, which is intended to reach up to 500 families in some 10 cities countrywide, is based on the Kiryat Gat initiative, with elements taken from other programs as well.
“The [JUF] were certainly the pioneers here in this field,” he said. “However, we undertook in-depth research looking into the connection between unemployment and social difficulties, plus we looked at numerous models worldwide.”
Itzkovitz continued, “The goal is to provide assistance to families that live in difficult conditions by providing them personal coaches that will help them with financial management and to return to the workplace.”
He emphasized that the new program would not replace the National Employment Service, which currently deals with those who find themselves on unemployment benefits, but would provide a homogeneous approach to getting people off welfare.
“We want to touch on all aspects of life in the family that could be affected by unemployment and poverty,” said Itzkovitz.
“We want to give people the tools to stand on their own feet.”
The tender for operating the new program was published by the ministry last month and will close on July 22.