Nearly 200,000 Workers Face Benefits Loss As GOP House Bails

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. workers who lost their jobs due to harmful effects of global trade will begin losing benefits starting on Saturday, unless Congress acts to extend them. Senate Democrats are eager to enact such an extension, but the Republican-led House reportedly has given up on such legislation.

The expanded Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program provides benefits and support to U.S. workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. TAA programs offer retraining opportunities, health insurance assistance, and other support initiatives to workers affected by globalization.

From May 18, 2009 to January 31, 2011, a total of 406,124 workers were certified under the TAA program, including 170,000 who would not have received benefits if it were not for the now-expiring provisions of TAA, according to estimates provided by Senate Democrats.

Prior to changes to TAA in 2009, employees of service firms were excluded from eligibility, as were people who lost their jobs because of a shift in production to countries with which the U.S. does not maintain a trade agreement, such as China. The 2009 changes, however, allows service workers whose jobs are offshored and manufacturing workers whose jobs were offshored to any country to be eligible. The reforms also included more robust training opportunities and improved health coverage assistance. If Congress does not act to extend these benefits, tens of thousands of workers laid off due to trade and offshoring -– workers in every state — will be cut off from these programs, Senate Democrats fear.

If the TAA reforms expire, American workers who lose their jobs due to trade with China and India will no longer be eligible to receive benefits. If Congress doesn’t act, all TAA-eligible workers will see fewer training opportunities and in some states, the money will simply run out, Democrats say.

A group of 14 senators, led by Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) wrote Republican House Speaker John Boehner and other bipartisan House leaders seeking extension of the TAA benefits.

“In the last several years, hundreds of thousands of Americans, including thousands of Ohioans, have benefited from Trade Adjustment Assistance. It is truly a lifeline for trade-affected workers, helping these individuals get back on their feet and get the skills they need to land new, good-paying jobs,” Brown says. “It’s irresponsible to pass trade agreements that close factories and send jobs overseas, and then turn our backs on the workers and communities these agreements affect. We cannot allow TAA to expire next week, which is why I am urging the House to pass a long-term extension as soon as possible.”

The senators’ letter, however, apparently has fallen on deaf ears, as House GOP leadership reportedly on Tuesday pulled a bill that would have extended TAA benefits.

“Conservatives had complained that the bill would put the federal government too squarely into the private economy,” the Washington Post reports.

In addition to Brown, signatories to the letter include Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), John Kerry (D-Mass.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

As one of the last acts before 111th Congress adjourned in December, Brown secured a six-week extension of the TAA program, in addition to the Health Care Tax Credit, a program that helps trade-affected workers afford private health insurance. Brown fought to extend the program for 18 months, but the Senate only cleared a six-week extension, leaving it up to the new Congress sworn in last month to consider the issue.

The previous Congress was led by Democrats, but the 112th Congress includes a new Republican majority.

The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.

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