WASHINGTON, D.C. — Forty-one U.S. Senators—led by Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-PA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA)—sent a letter today to President Barack Obama reinforcing his decision not to submit any free trade agreements to Congress—including pending agreements for Colombia, Panama, and South Korea—until Congress agrees to extend a long-term extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance, including the 2009 bipartisan reforms.
The senators asked the President to work with them to secure bipartisan support for an extension of the Recovery Act-version of TAA, including coverage for service workers as well as workers who lose their jobs to countries other than those with which the United States has formal free trade agreements, including China. This version of TAA also covers an expanded version of the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC), which helps Delphi retirees and other trade-affected workers afford private health insurance.
“We have an obligation to take care of American workers and American industry first. TAA is one critical piece to rebalancing our trade policy, along with strengthened trade enforcement. Too often, we pass free trade agreements and then turn our backs on the American workers who have watched their jobs go to Mexico or China,” Sen. Brown said. “At a minimum, we cannot move forward on any other trade agreements until updates to Trade Adjustment Assistance and the Health Care Tax Credit are passed, and I applaud the President for standing with workers on this issue. With more and more American and Ohio jobs moving to countries like China and India, we need to ensure that these hardworking men and women have the skills to compete for new jobs. TAA is a win-win for Americans training for new jobs and employers looking for a skilled workforce.”
“Congress should not be considering new trade agreements before renewing protections for people whose jobs are sent overseas," said Sen. Stabenow. “Along with extending retraining to help workers transition to the industries of the future, it is time to strengthen trade enforcement and finally get tough on China and other countries violating fair trade rules. U.S. trade policy should put American families and businesses first.”
“Before we focus on trade agreements with other countries, we must first and foremost take care of American workers who are looking for work or may have lost their jobs to outsourcing,” said Sen. Rockefeller. “We must extend TAA assistance for the many American workers who need it to help put food on the table and get needed training for new jobs. I have seen too many West Virginia families suffer because their jobs were moved out of this country.”
“If we truly want to get America get back on the road to prosperity, then we must ensure our workers have the proper tools to be able to find new employment. TAA helps workers, who have lost their job due to outsourcing production outside the United States, do exactly that. In the current economic environment, it is critical that we restore this vital program, especially before considering additional trade agreements,” Sen. Casey said.
"TAA has been a pillar of U.S. trade policy for decades. Congress modernized the program in 2009 to meet the needs of today's economy by extending TAA eligibility to people in the services sector and factoring in trade competition with non-FTA countries. Because of these changes, TAA has been a lifeline for hundreds of thousands of American workers over the past two years. As Congress prepares to consider the pending trade agreements, we must strengthen the safety net for middle class workers by extending these critical job retraining, health insurance and unemployment insurance benefits,” said Sen. Bingaman, a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee and long-time TAA advocate.
“We need to make sure American workers have the skills they need for 21st century jobs that grow our economy,” said Sen. Cantwell. “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.”
The letter was also signed by Senators 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), 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 full text 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.