Cantwell Urges Extension of Job Program for Trade-Affected Workers
Last year, TAA program helped more than 5,000 Washington workers in search for new jobs; Cantwell encourages extension of program before U.S. pursues free trade agreements
WASHINGTON, DC – Today, U.S Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) joined a group of 41 senators in calling on Congress to agree to extending a job program for trade-affected workers before President Obama submits pending free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.
The Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for Workers program ensures that workers who lose their jobs and financial security as a result of trade-related shifts in production have an opportunity to transition to new jobs and retrain to enter emerging sectors of the economy. Without an extension, the program will expire on December 31, 2011.
The senators also called for a long-term extension of important bipartisan reforms made to the program in May 2009 to keep pace with the changing employment and labor landscape but that expired in February. Last year, nearly $18 million in TAA funds were allotted to Washington state, helping more than 5,000 Washingtonians transition to new jobs in dozens of industries. Nationally, 42 percent of the workers certified for TAA since the reforms were implemented would not have been eligible without the reforms.
In a letter to President Obama signed by 41 senators and led by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Cantwell, Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), and Jeff Bingaman (D-MN), the senators told the president they agree with him that “strengthening the safety net for the middle class by extending TAA should be a prerequisite for the consideration of new trade agreements.”
“TAA has been a core pillar of U.S. trade policy,” the senators wrote to President Obama. “Since new TAA began in May 2009, the program has assisted 185,000 Americans who may have otherwise been ineligible for services, with usage in some states increasing by more than 40 percent. …We look forward to working with you to extend and implement TAA as part of broader trade and competitiveness strategy that creates jobs and builds the middle class.”
The letter was also signed by Senators Patty Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-NM), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Mark Begich (D-AK), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
The bipartisan reforms made to TAA in May 2009 expired on February 12, 2011. These reforms included streamlining the program and improving efficiency for beneficiaries; expanding eligibility to workers in the service industry and to workers whose jobs have been moved offshore, regardless of whether the United States has a trade agreement with that particular country; and making health care more affordable to those workers impacted by trade.
From the time the reforms were implemented in May 2009 through January 2011, more than 6,500 Washingtonian workers were certified to receive TAA services. Today, the senators are calling for an extension of TAA which includes a long-term extension of the reforms.
“We need to make sure American workers have the skills they need for 21st century jobs that grow our economy,” Cantwell said. “Trade Adjustment Assistance has provided vital retraining to thousands of displaced Washingtonians to get back into the workforce. Moving forward, we must extend this critical program so workers impacted by trade have the support they need to find new jobs in emerging sectors of the economy.”
Last December, one of the final acts of the 111th Congress was to approve a temporary, six-week extension of the TAA reforms, maintaining the expanded assistance for these workers until it expired on February 12th. On February 3, 2011, a little more than a week prior to the program reforms’ expiration, Cantwell joined with 13 senators in calling on U.S. House leadership to extend TAA’s expanded assistance.
The full letter to President Obama is below:
Dear President Obama:
We share the goal of your National Export Initiative to double U.S. exports and are looking forward to working with you on implementing a strong trade and competitiveness strategy. We are writing to support your decision to insist that Congress agree to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), including a long term extension of the 2009 bipartisan reforms, before you submit the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama. We recognize, as you do, that such a deal will be challenging to secure because it requires significant bipartisan commitments in both chambers of Congress to vote in favor of a TAA extension. The challenge is worth it. We agree with you that strengthening the safety net for the middle class by extending TAA should be a prerequisite for the consideration of new trade agreements.
TAA has been a core pillar of U.S. trade policy. The program ensures that workers who lose their jobs and financial security as a result of globalization have an opportunity to transition to new jobs and emerging sectors of the economy. Important reforms were made to TAA in 2009, which have helped streamline the program and make it more efficient for beneficiaries. In 2009, Congress also expanded eligibility to all workers whose jobs have been moved offshore, regardless of whether the United States has a trade agreement with the particular country. It also recognized the important role of the service industry in the U.S. economy by bringing service workers into TAA.
The program also improved and expanded access to TAA’s Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) – an initiative that promotes private health insurance access for recipients, and makes health insurance coverage more affordable to workers who lose their jobs due to trade and offshoring. In the absence of this program, more Americans would need public assistance and more individuals nearing retirement would be forced to use the emergency room as their sole source of health care.
These bipartisan reforms to the TAA program help hundreds of thousands of workers, in every state, by moving workers more quickly from government support to private sector jobs. Since new TAA began in May 2009, the program has assisted 185,000 Americans who may have otherwise been ineligible for services, with usage in some states increasing by more than 40 percent. The 2009 reforms also help ensure accountability and results by requiring data on performance and worker outcomes, enabling Congress to identify where improvements are needed. Unfortunately, these critical TAA reforms expired on February 12, 2011. Just this month, the Department of Labor denied the first three petitions filed by groups of workers seeking TAA assistance under pre-2009 eligibility. The continued denial of critical training will impede private sector employment in emerging sectors of the economy.
While we the undersigned may have differing views on elements of the trade agenda – with some of us looking forward to supporting the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama, and others skeptical of the impact of the agreements –we are unified in our belief that the first order of business, before we should consider any FTA, is securing a long-term TAA extension.
We look forward to working with you to extend and implement TAA as part of broader trade and competitiveness strategy that creates jobs and builds the middle class.
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