5/23/2011 — 

WASHINGTON, DC -In an effort to help protect Rhode Islander workers, U.S. Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) today joined with 39 of their fellow Senators in sending a letter urging President Obama to insist upon a long-term extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that includes bipartisan reforms made in 2009 prior to any consideration of pending free-trade agreements with South Korea, Columbia, and Panama.

The Trade Adjustment Assistance program provides aid to U.S. workers who have become unemployed as a result of increased imports from, or shifts in production to, foreign countries.  The goal of the program is to help these workers return to suitable employment as quickly as possible.  To facilitate this goal, TAA certified workers may access services that can include job training, income support, relocation allowances, job search allowances, and a health coverage tax credit.

“The trade assistance program provides critical training, health benefits, and income support to people who’ve been laid off through no fault of their own.  TAA allows people to pay their bills while they retrain for new jobs.  It is an effective program that quickly gets people back into the workforce.  We should renew trade adjustment assistance and help workers whose jobs have been sent overseas before considering any new free-trade agreements,” said Reed.  

“As we work to keep American manufacturers competitive, we also need to assist workers whose jobs were lost to unfair foreign competition, particularly in this difficult period of economic recovery," said Whitehouse.

The Obama Administration has been working for months to rework key provisions of free-trade deals with Colombia, South Korea, and Panama, which must then be approved by Congress.

While some Republicans have objected to renewing trade adjustment assistance for American workers, even the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has gone on record supporting an extension of the program, writing on May 2nd: “We urge Congress and the administration to find a way forward to ensure that the United States has in place an effective TAA program to support U.S. global economic engagement.”

Reed and Whitehouse want to ensure that important reforms made to TAA in 2009, including an expansion of the program to all service workers, and the addition of six additional months of job training with income support for eligible participants, are passed prior to consideration of these pending  trade deals.  These reforms expired in February of this year after Republicans blocked their critical extension.

Read the full text of the letter here:

May 23, 2011

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.

Sincerely,

Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jack Reed (D-RI), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Patty Murray (D-WA, 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), 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).

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