SHAHEEN VOICES SUPPORT FOR STRENGTHENING TRADE ADJUSTMENT ASSISTANCE PROGRAM

September 22, 2011

(Washington, D.C.)—U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen spoke on the Senate floor today to support continuing important reforms to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program (TAA). Below are her remarks, as prepared for delivery: 

We live in a globalized economy unlike anything previous generations have known. The spread of communications and manufacturing technology has opened up new resources and new markets to American entrepreneurs and innovators.

This globalization has offered us incredible new opportunities. When given a level playing field, the American workforce has shown it can out-compete and out-innovate any economy in the world.  And that’s the way we’ll get our economy moving again, by unleashing the power of American entrepreneurship.

I have spoken before about ending the false debate between so-called free trade and fair trade. We need competitive trade, a policy focused on growing U.S. exports, opening new markets for U.S. companies, job training for our workforce, and tough enforcement of trade rules.

We can help our workforce compete by giving them access to foreign markets.  Fully ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside the United States.  Unfortunately, only one percent of U.S. small businesses export their products.  Increasing our exports is vital to the long term health of our economy.

At the same time, we have to acknowledge that trade creates new challenges for many American companies and American workers. We have to understand that no graph showing GDP growth is comfort to a mother who suddenly can’t feed her family because her factory has shut down.  And no statistic about market efficiency is going to pay a young man’s rent when his company moves its engineering operations overseas.  When Congress promotes international trade, it enters into a compact with all American workers that they will not be left behind. Competitive trade means making sure all of us can compete.

For nearly 50 years, the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program has been lending a hand to workers who are faced with the negative consequences of international trade.  It has been supported by liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.  Its premise is simple: If you lose your job to foreign trade, we’ll help prepare you for a new career, and help keep you afloat while you train.  Over the last two years, almost a half million Americans have begun a new chapter in their lives with the help of Trade Adjustment Assistance. 

In 2009, Congress enacted some common-sense reforms to the TAA program.  For years, Americans who lost their jobs to India or China were denied access to this program because the United States doesn’t have a specific trade agreement with either country.  Given the growing economic power of these two nations, that left an unacceptable number of Americans facing trade effects on their own. In 2009, we changed that, so that the TAA program supported all Americans whose jobs were sent overseas.  But those reforms have sadly expired. This week, we have the opportunity to restore them and we should. 

The 2009 reforms also updated the TAA program to protect workers in service industries, in addition to those in manufacturing.  Fifty years ago when the program was created, no one could have imagined the advances in technology that would allow foreign service workers and engineers to compete with our domestic workers in those fields.  This week, we have an opportunity to restore this 21st century perspective to the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program.

I want to share a quick story about a woman in my state.

Joanne Sanschagrin of Gilmanton worked at Aavid Thermalloy for 22 years. She was a buyer for the company, but the company was threatened by competition from several nations, including China. She knew she needed to get a new job before she was laid off. Under the old TAA terms, the ones we are operating under now, she would not qualify for help under TAA. But under the 2009 reforms, Joanne sought and received training as a Licensed Nursing Assistant. She completed training in June and last month began a job in her new career, which she loves. TAA has supported her through this process and paid for her training. Instead of being unemployed, she is now a dynamic part of our economy, working in one of its fastest growing fields.

Another New Hampshire worker, Robert Arsenault, who is a veteran, had worked for 21 years making paper at the mills in Gorham and Berlin.  When those mills closed, he was able to use Trade Adjustment Assistance to get his Commercial Driver’s License at the White Mountains Community College.  He recently started a new full-time job with a paving and contracting company.

But TAA doesn’t just help out individual workers.  It helps small businesses that are being hurt by international trade too.

New England Forest Products is a hardwood manufacturing company that has been operating in Greenfield, New Hampshire since 1993.  But during the recent recession, they found themselves losing business to cheap Chinese lumber.  In search of answers, they applied to the local Trade Adjustment Assistance center for help.  They worked with the TAA center to develop a marketing strategy and advertising materials that now help this small business sell their hardwood flooring and other products directly to consumers.  In part because of this important program, New England Forest Products saw sales increase 28 percent in the following year.  And this isn’t just one encouraging story: of the 18 businesses in New Hampshire that have received Trade Adjustment Assistance in the last four years, all 18 are still operating and many are adding employees.

These are the kinds of stories that the Trade Adjustment Assistance program makes possible. But only if we sustain these critical reforms and strengthen TAA’s role as both a critical safety net and a driver of the American economy for decades to come.  I urge my colleagues to support this amendment. 

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