Congress and President Biden averted a partial government shutdown last Friday but they missed a key opportunity to support workers dislocated by international trade, and now they must use the lame duck session of Congress later this year to ensure these workers get the assistance they need.
Century Foundation Director of Workforce Policy Andrew Stettner released the following statement:
“Numerous trade agreements and globalization have fundamentally changed the U.S. economy, stripping millions of jobs from workers at factories and in the service sector while allowing multinational companies to benefit from lower-cost labor overseas. For more than 50 years, however, dislocated workers had at least one lifeline: they could count on genuine help, in the form of the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, to deal with the loss of income and retraining needs as they searched for a new career.
“Sadly, Congress let the authorization for the TAA program expire on July 1, 2022. While existing eligible workers were allowed to finish their training programs, no new workers were allowed to receive benefits from the program. Tens of thousands of workers have already lost out on benefits, including 900 workers at the soon-to-close U.S. Steel mill in Granite City, Illinois—workers who would have qualified for up to two years of retraining support and extended unemployment benefits, had Congress not let the program expire.
“Despite TAA reauthorization being passed by the House of Representatives as part of the America COMPETES Act in February, it was left out of the final legislation that passed the Senate and was signed into law. Now, in yet another blow to workers, TAA was not included on the list of so-called “expired programs” specified in the stopgap funding measure signed into law on Friday. That action would have allowed TAA to continue to operate with the remaining funds that Congress had already allocated for it.
“Failing to include TAA in the continuing resolution will not only hurt dislocated workers; it will harm our economy. Most workers who qualify for TAA benefits have no more than a high school diploma. They tend to be older and have worked at their current job for at least ten years. These laid-off Americans represent a critical source of hardworking, committed employees—workers would benefit from the chance to skill-up and fill important jobs like the well-paid semiconductor manufacturing positions being supported by the recently passed CHIPS Act.
“TAA petitions grew by four percent between 2020 and 2021, and the demand is likely to only increase if the labor market weakens as a result of interest rate hikes. As Congress is set to begin debate on an Omnibus Appropriations agreement to fund the government through the end of the fiscal year, the Trade Adjustment Assistance program must be restarted, ideally along with improvements such as increased funding for child care and eligibility for public sector workers.”