Amanah Hassan, 43, hadn't worked for 20 years. She received a meager allowance from the government, NIS 1,300 a month, with which she had to make do. In 2005, Hassan joined the welfare-to-work Wisconsin plan, where she took vocational training and empowerment workshops. Today she's employed at a BIG shopping center and earns three times as much as the allowance she used to receive. She says she's happy.
Hila Gochshtand, 56, is a divorcee with a 20-year-old son. She was a bitter opponent of the privately-operated Wisconsin plan and even got a chance to express her objections at Knesset hearings two years ago. Nevertheless, she joined the program, acquired qualifications and began working as an English teacher. Recently she took part in another Knesset hearing on the program; this time she ardently supported it.
But Hassan and Gochshtand don't impress our legislators who hate the Wisconsin plan precisely because it works well. Unlike the government's archaic Employment Service, the program has brought thousands of people into the job market who for years had lived on allowances and welfare payments. Out of their frustration over the project's success, these Knesset members have assailed it as well as the finance and labor ministries, which want to see it expanded. They have called it "corrupt," "something that won't last" and a "pillage of the public coffers".
The Wisconsin plan was launched in Israel in 2005 after nine years of bitter squabbling. Its aims to help chronically unemployed people, those who have been getting welfare payments from the government for years. It has been operating on a pilot basis in four regions and the current fight is over expanding it nationwide.
Of the 45,000 people referred to the program, 7,500 never reported at all; these people work without the knowledge of the authorities. Such people would not be able to take part in the project, which requires almost daily participation, because they work and fraudulently collect welfare payments. Around 18,000 people have found jobs thanks to the program, thoroughly changing their lives for the better. Not only are they earning a living with their own hands, they no longer live off public funding.
These are impressive results. They have been examined by a bunch of committees and institutes, all of which recommend that the program be expanded. A comprehensive study conducted by the Brookdale Institute, a joint project of the Joint Distribution Committee and the National Insurance Institute, revealed that the Wisconsin plan is more effective than the Employment Service at integrating the chronically unemployed into the job market. Meanwhile, Bank of Israel experts who examined the data say it should be expanded nationwide once its flaws have been ironed out. They have been. A report by the Israeli Academy of Sciences made a similar recommendation in December 2008, as have international organizations that monitor Israel's economy, like the International Monetary Fund.
The Wisconsin plan's achievements have angered the Employment Service's 800 officials, who have imposed sanctions on it because the program proves that the private market is succeeding precisely where they failed. It also infuriates MKs to whom the word privatization is like a red rag to a bull.
One reason these MKs give for their opposition is that the government has to invest too much money in the program, money that goes to businessmen.
This is utter nonsense because there is nothing wrong with the state investing in improving the lot of its weaker citizens. And 90 percent of the outlays go to personal training programs, including Hebrew lessons, as well as help in writing CVs and finding jobs and subsidizing day-care centers. The profits for the company operating the plan are what is left over, and they depend on results: the number of people shifted from welfare to gainful employment.
If the program is extended over the whole country, it will be able to integrate another 20,000 to 40,000 people into the job market within the next four years. This is why mayors everywhere support it. They understand well the enormous social benefits the Wisconsin plan could bring: the restoration of self-respect to people who begin earning a living by working, without having to resort to gifts from the government. This is exactly what has happened to Amanah Hassan and Hila Gochshtand.
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