PM Looking for Wisconsin Plan Alternative

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking to create an alternative to the welfare-to-work program known as the Wisconsin plan.

On Wednesday, the Knesset Labor, Welfare and Health Committee put the last nail in the present program's coffin: The committee meeting ended without even a vote on extending the plan, whose legislative mandate runs out tonight, after five years.

The Finance Ministry and the Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry will be jointly tasked with coming up with a new plan, in coordination with the Prime Minister's Office.

It is possible that the government will try to bring the new legislation to the Knesset Finance Committee rather than the Labor Committee. But it may have a difficult time usurping the Labor Committee's rights on the matter.

MK Haim Katz (Likud), who chairs the Labor Committee, was a staunch opponent of the plan. This week, committee members suggested canceling the present program and waiting until State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, who is now investigating the Wisconsin plan, presents his report.

The Finance Ministry, in contrast, had wanted to expand the program, which operated in only four areas, to the entire country.

MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) called the program corrupt, saying it stank like the Holyland scandal.

Several MKs claimed the program operators used excessively harsh criteria to justify canceling participants' welfare benefits, as money saved in this fashion contributed to the operators' income. For example, MKs said, participants were forced to take on inappropriate, low-paying work, or else have their benefits canceled.

In addition, MKs complained about the program's high cost and the amount paid the private operators, saying the Government Employment Service processed job-seekers for far less money.

The Prime Minister's Bureau said yesterday: "The prime minister places great importance on the move from a policy of allowances to a policy of encouraging work habits, as the main tool for rooting out poverty and narrowing economic and social gaps." It added that expanding the program to the entire country, as the treasury wanted, would have been the correct move.

Industry, Trade and Labor Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) wants the replacement program to be tailored to each individual job-seeker, a source close to the minister said.

"A Bedouin woman without any education is different than a 50-year-old accountant who was fired," said the minister's confidant. "It must be a program that includes income subsidies, and it must be based on short professional retraining programs."

Meanwhile, the ministry has decided that former participants in the now defunct program will resume being handled by the Employment Service, to which they must start reporting as of May 9 in order to receive their benefits.