Assistance may end for workers who lose jobs to trade


Trade Adjustment Assistance, a federal program that has helped hundreds of thousands of workers get back on their feet after their jobs went overseas, could soon disappear due to an error by Congress, worker advocates say.

The TAA program was created in the 1970s to aid workers who become unemployed due to the impact of international trade. In the last 20 years, as Congress enacted NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and other free trade pacts, increasing numbers of workers have depended on TAA for support in rebuilding their lives.

Last year, more than 280,000 workers nationwide – and more than 4,000 in Minnesota – were certified to receive Trade Adjustment Assistance, which includes money for training and career counseling and in some cases also covers the cost of health care and relocating to a new job.

“This program has truly been a lifeline for many Minnesota families,” said Mike Goldman, dislocated worker labor liaison for the Minnesota AFL-CIO. “If it disappears, it is going to cause huge havoc – and hardship.”

Goldman, who is part of the State of Minnesota’s team that responds to assist workers affected by plant closings and major layoffs, said he learned of the threat to the program in an e-mail from the national Citizens Trade Campaign. A CTC staffer quoted an article in Inside U.S. Trade, a national trade journal, that says TAA will end Feb. 13 due to “a technical drafting error” in legislation passed by the lame duck Congress in December.

The legislation was intended to extend some special TAA benefits from Dec. 31 to Feb. 12, but instead had the effect of slating the entire program to expire in mid-February, the journal said.

Goldman said he has contacted U.S. Department of Labor officials to clarify the situation and to find out the effect on current TAA participants if Congress fails to extend the program or acts, but does so after Feb. 13.

“Nobody can give me an answer,” he said.

Ironically, Goldman was gearing up to promote the TAA program later this year at regional forums around Minnesota through a grant awarded by the Department of Labor.

The “drafting error,” which reportedly occurred when the Senate acted on the TAA legislation, comes at a time when the Obama administration is pressuring Congress to pass the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement. Advocates of fair trade, including the Citizens Fair Trade Campaign and the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition, have criticized these agreements for providing numerous benefits to corporations but no protections for workers, consumers or the environment.

In the past, Trade Adjustment Assistance has been offered to win support for trade agreements.

For more information  Learn more about TAA
Learn more about Minnesota’s Dislocated Worker Program