Ministries: Thousands Will Lose Jobs if Wisconsin Plan Expires

The experimental welfare-to-work program Orot Leta'asuka (the Wisconsin program), which aims to incorporate guaranteed-income recipients into the workforce, expires on December 31. The finance and industry, trade and labor ministries warn that without its extension and expansion, thousands of people will stop working and be forced to seek new employment.

The Knesset Labor Committee is expected to weigh extending the program.

But MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) said expansion (in other words privatization of state employment services) will remove the last social safety net - minimum income stipends. "This privatization is just as dangerous as the privatization of prisons, recently halted by a High Court of Justice," he said.

At the joint initiative of Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu, the maximum age of participants in the project would gradually increase from 50 to 54 next year, and to 55 in two years' time. In addition, it has been agreed that unemployed college graduates will continue to be handled by the state Employment Service.

The Finance Ministry said the Wisconsin program enabled 400 people in Hadera to find jobs, but the figure is misleading," said Shlomit, who heads a single-parent family of a 4-year-old daughter and an 18-year-old son. Two years ago, she was referred by the National Insurance Institute to participate in the program in Hadera, one of five centers nation-wide. But Shlomit said: "The number includes people who have dropped out of the program a number of times, so their placement is counted more than once, and even those were placed in part-time jobs with poverty-level salaries."

She said the program carries a stigma (even after its name was changed). "Employers don't want to hire through this program," said Shlomit.

She left her main job at the time, as a telemarketer, and a second job for the opportunity of a Wisconsin program placement in more regular employment. "They sent me to a course in sales that lasted a few weeks, then I was placed with a company selling cosmetic products." But Shlomit didn't last long in the highly charged atmosphere of the sales room. She was forced to quit after four months, and her Wisconsin placement came to an end. She still had to appear at the program's placement center in Hadera daily for a year and a half and wait for up to six hours in the hope that work would be found for her. Refusing to appear could have revoked her minimum income stipend.

"While we waited, we were taught how to write a resume, which didn't help me a bit, and [had] an introduction to computers when most of the stipend recipients don't even have a computer at home," she said.

"They couldn't find me a job. The Hadera area only has jobs in cleaning or nursing. You need connections to get a job at one of the factories like Alliance Tire or Hadera Paper. If they'd teach us skills like hairdressing or sewing or cosmetics, we could open a little business."