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Wisconsin Plan overhaul bill gets broad support

ינואר 10, 2007. Ha'aretz: Ruth Sinai
More than 80 Knesset members are sponsoring a bill calling for far-reaching changes or even abolishing the Wisconsin employment program. Among them is opposition chair MK Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) who was mainly responsible for establishing the program when he was finance minister. Coalition chair Avigdor Itzchaky (Kadima) also supports the bill.

Netanyahu's people said yesterday that he had not put his sponsorship of the bill in writing yet, would be discussing it more today, and in any case would not support abolishing it. However, aides to the bill's initiator, Lia Shemtov (Yisrael Beiteinu), said there was no doubt Netanyahu would sign on; they had held two days of negotiations with him and he told them he was in.

"The Knesset is saying 'enough of the Wisconsin Plan,'" Shemtov said. "I call on the cabinet, which is to meet in the coming weeks to discuss the future of the plan, to respect the will of the majority of Knesset members."

Shemtov also called on Industry, Trade and Employment Minister Eli Yishai to reverse his decision to extend the program for another year and expand it to include thousands more unemployed.

The bill would release many unemployed from the obligation to participate in the program in order to receive income supplements, including single parents and people with part-time positions. In addition, at present both parents must participate in the program to keep their income supplements, but the bill would obligate only one.

The bill also proposes changing the economic model of the program, which in its current form suffers from a conflict of interest: the four franchisees that operate the four employment centers are remunerated according to the amount of money in benefits they cut from participants who do not meet the program's requirements.

Instead, the bill proposes that the franchisees be paid according to the number of people they place in jobs. The bill also proposes that physicians whose job it is to determine whether participants are able to work be employees of the Employment Service and not the franchisees.

The bill would set the number of hours participants must give to the program based on the kind of training they undergo and a customized program designed for them, and not by a strict formula that requires they spend 30 to 40 hours a week at the program In addition, if a participant missed some of the program, benefits would be docked according to the days missed, rather than for an entire month.

Two clauses in the legislation mandating the Wisconsin plan state that the program will not be expanded or extended beyond two years of the pilot launched on August 1, 2005, but would be canceled after 18 months, which is now. Shemtov would like to see the cancelation go into force if all the changes are not passed
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