From the Welfare Warriors
and Laborers Voice
Wisconsin’s mean-spirited privatized welfare plan has been implemented in Nazareth, Israel. Based on the assumption that caring for children and elders is not necessary work, mothers in Nazareth are forced to perform “volunteer” work in exchange for the guaranteed family income that supplements their husband’s low wages. This new policy, called the “Wisconsin Plan,” reproduces the US TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) welfare program’s sexism and racism while economically preying on the poor. Israel embraces the European system that provides unemployed or low-income workers with a guaranteed income supplement. But the Wisconsin Plan puts an end to such support.
Ironically, the “Wisconsin Plan” is the creation of a private Dutch-Israeli company, Agam Mehalev, Ltd,. The company promises to reduce state expenditures by 35% by forcing moms out of the program. Since it began in August, the plan has already terminated 940 families’ income supplements when mothers were unable to abandon their family responsibilities for 30 hours of unpaid workfare each week. Parents must leave their children when the youngest is two. No child care is provided or available. Children either accompany their moms to the “Wisconsin Center” or stay home alone.
Like TANF, the “Wisconsin Plan” targets minority moms. Nazareth is an Arab town. And Arabs make up the majority of poor people in Israel as a result of discrimination and lack of opportunities. In other parts of Israel the Wisconsin Plan only targets certain neighborhoods. But in Nazareth it affects the entire city. The moms’ average age is 40 and their education level tends to be very low. Their families are large and they often care for elders and children. The plan forces women to travel miles away to clean prisons, dig potatoes, and collect garbage, similar to US workfare. Women are often forced to work far more hours than their small income supports require. In one Kindergarten, the paid cleaning personnel were laid off after the kindergarten requested and received forced “volunteers” to do the cleaning.
Manal Abdeljawwad does unpaid workfare at a primary school, everyday from 8am-2pm. She is not at home when Shaimaí, her youngest daughter, comes home from nursery school. On December 1 Shaimaí was hit by a car on her way home and was hospitalized. Manal continues her full-time workfare. Apart from rage, Manal feels desperation. “With Wisconsin, all my life has changed. I used to keep the house, be responsible for raising the children and helping them with their homework; I’m no longer in charge.”
When confronted with Shaimaís accident, a Wisconsin Plan official from Nazareth commented: ”Let them roam the streets. It’s none of our business.”
The Laborers Voice (Sawt el-Amel), a non-profit group who defends the rights of unemployed and low-income citizens of Israel, points out, “The Nazareth volunteer work is neither voluntary, nor is it a service to the community. Nazareth’s forced volunteers work in places that do not qualify as social institutions. They must put in much more work time than their transfer payments require. And most importantly, Agam Mehalev Ltd. targets specifically women. For Arab society in Nazareth, this has devastating social effects. Women are strongly involved in household keeping, the upbringing of their children, and caring for elderly family members. There is no alternative solution in the form of daycare centres, after-school programs or homes for the elderly available in Nazareth.”
As a result of organized resistance by Wisconsin Plan victims and Laborers Voice, Agam Mehalev, Ltd has temporarily stopped the forced work requirement. Contact Sawt el-Amel at Laborers Voice.