Renewed Aid for Trade-Displaced Workers

On Dec. 13, 2014 the Senate passed a $1.1 trillion spending package (H.R. 83) that includes provisions to extend a program—long supported by Democrats—that helps workers whose jobs are eliminated by foreign trade. The omnibus, as it cleared the House Thursday night, would keep the expiring Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) for workers program running for another year, funding the program around $711 million.

TAA, a federal program managed by the U.S. Department of Labor, provides assistance to workers who lose their jobs or whose work hours and wages are reduced as a result of trade, and aids them in obtaining new employment. It helps these trade-affected workers transition to new fields with individualized training plans, income support while training, job search, and re-employment and relocation allowances, among a host of other benefits.

Prior to passage, a group of 32 House Democrats sent a letter to House Republican leadership urging them to reauthorize the TAA program, which was set to expire at the end of 2014. In November, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) introduced the Senate companion bill to The Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2014 (H.R. 4163) introduced by Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) earlier last year. The Senate bill, S. 2964, mirrors the House bill and, if enacted, would extend the TAA programs that were in effect as of Dec. 31, 2013 through 2020 and restore the previously lapsed portions of the program extending benefits to those working in public sector and services industries. In the 114th Congress, Democrats are expected to continue to push for a long-term reauthorization of the program.

Since its inception in 1962, the TAA program has helped countless Americans get back to work by giving them opportunities to acquire new skills. Among other things, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Extension Act of 2014 would restore eligibility to levels enacted in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to include service sector and public sector workers; provide continued unemployment benefits to workers in training by extending the number of weeks workers are eligible for Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA) from 65 to 78 weeks; and cover job search and relocation expenses of up to $1,500. This legislation would also increase supplemental wages that can be paid to workers 50 years of age or older if their new job pays less than their previous job; and ensure workers can afford their health care even after being laid off by reauthorizing the Health Care Tax Credit (HCTC)–which expired at the end of 2013—and by increasing the amount of the tax credit from 72.5 to 80 percent of the insurance premium.

According to a recent Department of Labor report, nearly 270,000 trade-affected workers participated in the TAA program between fiscal year (FY) 2009 and FY 2013. Of the total number of TAA participants, more than 50 percent (138,477) received training via the TAA program, with more than 98,000 workers earning a degree or industry-recognized credential to help them advance in their careers. In FY 2013, 75 percent of the workers participating were re-employed, and 91 percent remained on the job six months after hiring. More importantly, the number of workers who found a job as a result of TAA rose 13 percent in three years, from 58 percent in 2010 to 71 percent in 2013.

H.R. 83, which passed the chamber by a 56-40 vote, funds all but one of the 12 appropriations bills through September 2015. The remaining appropriations measure, the Department of Homeland Security, was included in a short term continuing resolution, and funds the agency through February. On Dec. 16, 2014 the bill was sign it into law.