SHAHEEN: DISPLACED AMERICAN WORKERS NEED MORE HELP

Shaheen, 14 colleagues call on Labor Department to expedite TAA applications

July 22, 2009

(Washington, DC)-U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen, joined by 14 of her Senate colleagues, today called on Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis to expedite applications for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) and to quickly determine eligibility so that workers whose jobs have been lost to foreign trade may benefit from training and assistance.  Approvals on TAA applications have slowed drastically this year, even in the midst of a recession when American workers need assistance most.

"We need to make sure displaced American workers have every opportunity to get back on their feet, and that means completing TAA eligibility determinations as quickly as possible," said Shaheen.  "TAA funding will help workers in communities across America, and in order to expedite our economic recovery we must also expedite the processing of TAA petitions."

Last month, Shaheen called on Solis to aid 260 Ethan Allen employees to be laid off at the end of August from the company's furniture factory in Beecher Falls, Vermont.  These lay-offs, which will have a sharp effect on the local New Hampshire and Vermont economies, are due to dramatic increases in importation of foreign furniture and are just one example of how foreign trade affects American workers.

The full text of the letter sent today follows:

July 22, 2009

The Honorable Hilda Solis

U.S. Department of Labor

200 Constitution Ave., NW

Washington, DC 20210

Dear Secretary Solis:

We write to urge the Department of Labor (DOL) to allocate the necessary resources to meet increased demand for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA).  We also request that the Department make more information available to petitioners that will expedite filings and eligibility determinations.

On May 18, provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 went into effect that expanded the pool of eligible TAA recipients and raised the cap on annual TAA funds from $200 million to $575 million.  

In past years, TAA has had sufficient resources to quickly investigate petitions and make determinations.  For example, in 2006, after the closing of a paper mill in Groveton, NH, the workers were determined eligible in 19 days.

However, despite laudable efforts by the Department to implement the expansions to the TAA program in the midst of the economic recession, investigations and determinations have slowed significantly.  From May 18-22 of 2009, TAA received 520 petitions and has made determinations on only 130, or 25 percent.  In the same period in 2008, TAA received 31 applications and made determinations on 30, about 97 percent. 

We know you share our belief that the suffering of dislocated American workers compels the government to avoid delays and reduce the wait time for vulnerable workers.  With more than 1,400 petitions awaiting determination, we urge you to allocate resources from discretionary funds for additional investigators sufficient to handle this extreme caseload.

The Department also states that determinations on petitions are "dependent on the receipt of verified information" and that the "duration of each investigation depends on the number of information requests necessary."  However, neither the Petition for Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) nor the program website provides explicit instructions on how applicants should document the effects of foreign trade in such a way that will reduce the need for further inquiry and the accompanying delay.  Given the difficulties already faced by petitioners, we know you will agree that the Department must provide clearer instruction.  We urge DOL to incorporate a sample list of evidentiary documents into Section 3 of the Petition and make it available on the program website.

We believe that TAA funding is helping transform our workforce and sow the seeds of economic recovery in communities across America.  The quicker eligibility determinations are completed; the sooner petitioners nationwide can join in the opportunities of this new era.

We strongly support changes that will accelerate the processing of TAA petitions and urge the Department of Labor to consider these recommendations.

Sincerely,

U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Jeff Bingaman, Debbie Stabenow, Tom Udall, John Kerry, Kay Hagan, Patrick Leahy, Bernard Sanders, Maria Cantwell, Sheldon Whitehouse, Kirsten Gillibrand, Russ Feingold, Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, and Herb Kohl.

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