Friday, April 13, 2007

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus yesterday outlined new proposals for legislation to extend the federal trade adjustment assistance program, which is aimed at helping workers hurt by international trade.

Mr. Baucus said he will include provisions to aid workers whose industries are affected by trade before any layoffs occur and improve health care benefits in the federal trade adjustment assistance program.

The program is set to expire Sept. 30. The Montana Democrat said the expiration “gives us a historic opportunity to stop doing the same thing over again.”

“We have a unique chance to develop a more flexible, fair and relevant program that helps more American workers adjust to and thrive in the age of globalization,” he said at a trade luncheon.

Earlier this year, Mr. Baucus and Sen. Norm Coleman, Minnesota Republican, sponsored legislation to extend the program until 2012. That bill would make a number of changes, including extending benefits to workers in services industries.

Mr. Baucus outlined additional changes to the program he will back in further legislation this year, including helping workers before they lose their jobs because of trade.

“It is not always easy to predict when a worker’s job may be in jeopardy, but in trade-affected industries the signs are often there,” he said, adding that if the Labor Department determined which industries or occupations are vulnerable to harm from trade, “we can reach those workers before they lose their jobs.”

He also called for more flexibility in benefits and changes in the program’s “critically underused” health care tax credit, including raising the government’s share of the premium and making sure workers do not get stuck with the bill while they wait for the government to pay benefits.

He also proposed help for communities hurt by trade.

“Our approach will be modeled on what we already do for communities affected by military base closures,” he said.

“In these cases, the Defense Department’s Office of Economic Adjustment works closely with communities to develop a plan and secure government assistance to implement that plan,” he said.

National Foreign Trade Council President William A. Reinsch said that while increased trade helps the whole economy, it also “creates losses.”

“Senator Baucus understands that the government has a duty to address those losses and help our workers in industry, agriculture and services find new job opportunities and new careers. No government does that very well, but the Baucus legislation will force major improvements in our system,” Mr. Reinsch said.

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