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Public Statements

Letter to The Honorable Barack Obama, President of the United States

Sen. Stabenow Leads Group Of 41 Senators In Urging Obama: Protections For Workers Should Come Before Considering Trade Agreements

Senators Request Renewal of TAA Reforms to Cover Service Workers and Job Losses to Non-FTA Countries Like China, Nearly 50,000 Michigan residents enrolled in program

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) led a group of 41 of Senators in a letter today to President Barack Obama urging him not to submit any trade agreements to Congress-including pending agreements for Colombia, Panama, and South Korea-until Congress agrees to renew a long-term extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to protect American families from being wiped out when their jobs are sent overseas.

The senators asked the President to work with them to secure bipartisan support for an extension of TAA, including 2009 reforms that provided coverage for service workers as well as workers who lose their jobs to countries other than those with which the United States has formal trade agreements, including China. This version of TAA also covers an expanded version of the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC), which helps Delphi retirees and other trade-affected workers afford private health insurance.

"Congress should not be considering new trade agreements before renewing protections for people whose jobs are sent overseas," said Sen. Stabenow. "Along with extending retraining to help workers transition to the industries of the future, it is time to strengthen trade enforcement and finally get tough on China and other countries violating fair trade rules. U.S. trade policy should put American families and businesses first."

TAA allows those people whose jobs were outsourced to access retraining programs, as well as temporary income assistance and reduced-price health care coverage as they seek to reenter the workforce. In 2009, an update to TAA was enacted to help the program reflect the realities of today's global economy. Created in 1962, TAA originally did not allow service workers to take part in the program, and only those whose jobs were shipped to a country with which the United States has a free trade agreement qualified-in other words, workers whose jobs were sent to countries like China and India were turned away. The 2009 update allowed service workers and those whose jobs were offshored to any country to apply.

With 49,642 residents participating in the program, Michigan has more people utilizing TAA than any other state-in fact, earlier this year Michigan had more people enrolled in the program than 30 other states combined. Nearly 30 percent of these Michigan TAA participants would not have qualified without the TAA reforms passed in 2009. Nationally, an estimated 435,000 workers have been certified to receive TAA services. Of those workers, approximately 185,000 would not have been eligible without the 2009 reforms.

The TAA update was originally enacted through the end of 2010. Last December, a six-week extension was passed, continuing the new provisions until February 12. However, Congressional Republicans blocked any further extension and the provisions expired in February.

The letter was signed by Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Robert Casey (D-PA), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Patty Murray (D-WA, Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Carl Levin (D-MI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Al Franken (D-MN), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Herb Kohl (D-WI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Mark Begich (D-AK), Chris Coons (D-DE), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bernie Sanders (D-VT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Daniel Akaka (D-HI), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jon Tester (D-MT), Tom Carper (D-DE), Daniel Inouye (D-HI), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

The full text of the letter is below.

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.

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