September 22,2004

Baucus Blasts Administration’s Failure to Implement Landmark Trade Adjustment Assistance Expansion

Today, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a report reviewing the Bushadministration’s implementation of the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reform Act of 2002. TheTrade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program provides job training, income support, a healthcare tax credit, and other help to workers who have been displaced by trade.

After reviewing GAO’s conclusions, Senator Max Baucus, ranking member of the SenateFinance Committee, which has jurisdiction over the TAA program, made the followingstatement:

“One of my proudest achievements as Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee waspassing the Trade Adjustment Assistance Reform Act of 2002. This landmark legislationexpanded eligibility to broad new categories of trade-impacted workers and made innovativenew benefits available.

“I believe in trade. I believe that opening new markets and leveling the playing fieldbenefit American workers, farmers, and businesses. But there are also downsides from trade.And when our national trade policy leads to job losses in one sector, we have a responsibility tohelp workers get new skills and find new jobs in other sectors of the economy.

“I requested this GAO report to assess whether the administration is making all possibleefforts to get TAA benefits to the workers who need them. By all measures, they come up short.

“This report confirms my suspicions that the Bush administration is undermining themost effective program we have to help workers who have lost their jobs because of trade.Instead of helping workers get new skills, the Department of Labor (DOL) is denying laid-offworkers access to training, shortchanging secondary workers, and dragging its feet on a newwage insurance option for older workers. This administration fought this worker assistanceprogram before we succeeded in passing it in 2002, and continues fighting to weaken it eventhough it is the law of the land.

“One of the key improvements in the Reform Act was extending TAA benefits tosecondary workers – workers in supplier firms that close when their customers lose out to importcompetition. Despite an enormous increase in the pool of eligible workers, hardly any secondaryworkers are receiving benefits. GAO found that the Department of Labor lacks any outreachstrategy for identifying potentially eligible secondary workers, which effectively deprives themof their benefits.

“Another key improvement was to offer older workers a ‘wage insurance’ option if theyfound new jobs quickly that pay less than the old ones. The report highlights how foot-draggingby the Department of Labor made it virtually impossible for states to implement and workers topursue this option. In light of the President’s call for “21st century” retraining programs, thisgrudging approach to a truly 21st century option enacted by Congress is inexcusable.

“After this administration fought against adequate funding for new TAA enrollees, I amfrustrated, but not surprised, to see that DOL is now forcing states to ration training dollars oreven to deny workers access to retraining. TAA is first and foremost a retraining program.Denying trade- impacted workers the chance to learn new skills vitiates the whole purpose of theprogram.

“DOL also deliberately undercounts workers who find new jobs after TAA retraining –lowering its statistical success rate. It gives states no credit for workers who become selfemployed-- one of the fastest growing job categories in the economy today – or for those whofind federal, military, or postal jobs. That sets the program up to look like a failure.

“Although not covered in GAO’s report, I am deeply concerned about theadministration’s failure to show its commitment to America’s small and medium-dbusinesses by funding the TAA for Firms program. Last week, the administration sat by whileRepublicans in Congress moved to slash the program to half its authorized level. With smallbusinesses accounting for the majority of American job creation, we need to invest in making oursmall businesses globally competitive – not cut the program designed to do just that.

“To me, giving American workers the skills they need to compete in the global economyis perhaps the single most important thing our government can do to strengthen the economy.We can and must do better to bring our TAA program to its full potential.”