May 30, 2011

Manchin, Rockefeller Hold Firm on Halting Free Trade Agreements Until Trade Adjustment Assistance is Extended

Requests Extension of 2009 TAA Reforms to Cover Service Workers and Job Losses to Non-FTA Countries Like China, Updates Health Care Tax Credit

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senators Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin sent a letter 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 (TAA), including the 2009 bipartisan reforms. 

Rockefeller and Manchin, along with 39 other 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, which helps Delphi retirees and other trade-affected workers afford private health insurance. 

Rockefeller also reintroduced the TAA Health Coverage Improvement Act and Strengthening America’s Trade Laws Act, which would enable American businesses to compete on a level playing field with foreign companies while keeping jobs in this country, and also help individuals who lost their jobs due to outsourcing afford health coverage, respectively.

“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 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.”

“West Virginians are sick of trade policies that seem to do nothing but trade good American jobs for no jobs,” Senator Manchin said. “It's just commonsense that we need trade deals built on fairness, so that American workers can compete and succeed globally, and so that we can support and create American jobs. Unfortunately, American workers and communities have paid the price for unfair trade deals – making it especially important to help workers who have lost jobs. Trade Adjustment Assistance helps us do just that.” 

The full text of the letter follows:

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. 

Additional Background:

In May of 2009, Rockefeller sent a letter to Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis regarding the importance of quickly processing TAA applications in light of changes to the Recovery Act.  That letter highlighted the importance of TAA benefits for West Virginia and referenced layoffs at Severstal that impacted hundreds of West Virginia employees who were recently awarded TAA benefits.