So We’re Really Still Blocking Trade Adjustment Assistance?

By Matthew McMullan
Some of the people who work here got questionable priorities. Getty Images

It’s a real bad look for some Members of Congress.

Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), the program that helps American workers displaced by import competition reskill for new careers, had served millions since its inception in 1974 and is made available to about 100,000 people every year. Then Congress let its funding lapse this summer, apparently because some Members are cranky the Biden administration isn’t actively pursuing new trade agreements.

“We’re open to creative ideas here, but if we don’t have a serious, significant trade agenda that opens up markets for American workers, TAA doesn’t make much sense,” said the ranking Republican on the House Ways & Means Committee this summer while the program withered.

Now, you could spend a lot of energy trying to explain to those opposing TAA because there isn’t a “trade agenda that opens up markets for American workers” that the horse has already left the barn. American workers are already exposed to trade, new agreements or not. The need for programs like TAA is only going to grow as post-pandemic trade disruptions deepen.

But you’d be wasting your breath because the argument is disingenuous. They know workers don’t stop facing import competition just because there aren’t new deals being negotiated, and they can read so they know TAA helps workers significantly over the long run.

But they want new trade agreements negotiated. So TAA – and the workers who need it – are being used as chits. It takes some chutzpah to use a program that helps American workers as a bargaining chip for your stated goal of opening up markets for American workers!

The Gyro Captain is right: It is dishonest.

The United Steelworkers union (USW) is pretty unhappy with how this is shaking out, suffice it to say. USW President Tom Conway said this:

“The USW began sounding the alarm more than a year ago when it became clear that a number of congressional Republicans intended to block reauthorization of this vital program, which will fully expire at the end of this month.

“Since then, Congress missed a series of opportunities to reauthorize TAA as a result of Republican obstruction, and Republicans are now yet again standing in the way of helping working families by blocking job training funds that should be going to their own states.

“The U.S. government collects tens of billions of dollars in duties, taxes, and fees from imports. When TAA costs only a tiny fraction of that amount, it’s unconscionable that any elected leader would attempt to derail a well-established and highly efficient opportunity to retrain displaced workers.

I’m looking for the lie in this statement, but I’m not finding it!

Anyway, TAA works. It works works. My colleague Jeff Bonior wrote extensively on TAA just a few days ago, speaking to workers who have gone through the program and benefited greatly for it. One of them, Kim Brewer, retrained as an aircraft mechanic after getting laid off from a steel mill at age 40. Here’s what he had to say about the remarkably callous decision to let TAA fade out:

“There is no doubt you can learn a new skill and tremendously increase your income through this program. I can’t believe it is no longer available. We need more job training help like this. It is honest work for those that want to work and put the time in. This is not a free handout. It increases the power of the middle class and is good for this country.”

Again, where’s the lie? Congress should reauthorize funding for TAA immediately.