WEEKLY SENATE UPDATE by U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe
For the week of December 10 - 14, 2001
The routine has become painfully familiar: a mill, facing stiff competition from competitors that do their manufacturing using low-cost labor abroad, announces that it must close its doors – displacing workers and dealing a blow to the community. For these workers and their families, a helping hand from the government – in the form of job retraining and other expenses – is vital in helping regain their economic footing.
This year, more than 5,600 manufacturing workers have lost their jobs in Maine alone. Job losses such as these shake the very foundation of the communities they affect, and it is critical that those affected by the layoffs and their families are given the chance to regain their footing through training and job search assistance. For Maine, one of the most important programs helping workers is the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. I strongly support this critical initiative, which provides incalculable benefits to Maine workers and the communities in which they live. And, as a member of the Senate Finance Committee, I spearheaded efforts to improve Trade Adjustment Assistance, working with a core group of Senators to enhance this program based on our experience in Maine.
Administered by the U.S. Department of Labor's Employment and Training Administration, TAA is a critical tool that helps workers at companies adversely impacted by imports and foreign competition. Under this program, displaced workers can petition the Secretary of Labor for help with training, a job search allowance, and other reemployment services. A companion program, begun in 1994 with the adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), expands eligibility to those who lose jobs because their firms have relocated production to Canada or Mexico.
Both TAA programs need Congressional re-authorization, and as the Finance Committee began to develop new legislation to extend trade assistance for five years, I worked with my colleagues to better address the needs of workers. We developed legislation extending authorization through September of 2006, consolidated the two programs and expanded it to include workers who are indirectly affected by trade.
The bill, passed last week by the Senate Finance Committee, is now cleared for consideration by the full Senate. This legislation creates a new pilot program I advocated to encourage entrepreneurship. My provision tasks the U.S. Small Business Administration with identifying ways to help TAA recipients start their own businesses, by assisting with development plans and potential funding.
Nationally, 95 percent of businesses are small businesses, and I believe this program will help these workers gain independence through entrepreneurship, and provide a new type of recovery for laid off workers.
This legislation also expands the role of the U.S. Economic Development Agency (EDA), which provides grants to distressed communities. Over the past seven years, EDA has invested more than $40 million in Maine communities, funding more than 100 projects throughout the state. Through a new Office of Community Trade Adjustment created in the legislation, the EDA would be charged with working with state and local officials to develop a strategic plan when a community suffers massive layoffs. The EDA will, in turn, offer grants based on these plans that are targeted specifically to trade-impacted communities that could prove critical in getting these communities back on track.
One of the most vital issues the bill addresses is the current budget for training assistance. Soon after the layoff of 550 Dexter Shoe workers earlier this year, Maine projected it would fall short of training funds by $2 million, forcing the state to apply for a Department of Labor National Emergency Grant.
Our TAA bill would increase triple funding, increasing the training budget to $300 million from the current $110 million.
I've worked closely with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Montana) and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-New Mexico), a fellow committee member, to include these provisions that promise to enhance federal help for workers who lose their job because of foreign competition. The TAA program has helped countless Mainers rebound from plant closings and layoffs, and by expanding the reach of this essential program, we can provide even greater relief to those benefitting from its services in the future.