Harkin, 40 Senators Urge Extension of Trade Assistance so Workers Can Remain Competitive Print
News Releases - Business & Economy
Written by Sen. Tom Harkin   
Tuesday, 24 May 2011 12:35

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a letter to President Obama, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) today joined a group of 41 Senators in urging an extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), including a long term extension of the 2009 bipartisan reforms, before the president submits pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.  TAA provides benefits to jobless workers adversely affected by foreign trade, including partial wage replacement and training assistance.  The 2009 reforms expanded these benefits to additional workers, such as workers in the service sector.  Harkin is Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee.

Since TAA reforms were implemented in May 2009, an estimated 435,000 workers nationally were certified to receive TAA services, approximately 185,000 of those workers might not have been eligible without the 2009 reforms.  More than 4100 Iowa workers currently rely on this assistance.  Since the 2009 reforms expired earlier this year, the Labor Department has had to deny workers’ TAA petitions filed under pre-2009 eligibility rules.

“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,” wrote the lawmakers.  

The full text of the letter follows.  It was also signed by Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), 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), 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).

May 23, 2011

President Barack Obama
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

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 TAA reforms began in May 2009, the program has assisted 185,000 Americans who may have otherwise been ineligible for services. 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 a broader trade and competitiveness strategy that creates jobs and builds the middle class.

Sincerely,