Today, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith along with House Ways and Means Ranking Member Charles B. Rangel requested the Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate and report to Congress on several aspects of the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. Created in 1962, the TAA program helps workers who lost their jobs due to international competition learn new skills through worker retraining programs and respond to changing realities in the global environment.  Once a worker or group of workers are certified by the Department of Labor to be eligible for TAA, the benefits would include (1) funding to use towards training programs or an advanced degree, (2) healthcare coverage tax credit, and (3) wage insurance. 

As the GAO request states, “however, as indicated in several recent GAO reports and data reported by the Department of Labor (DOL), the TAA program has failed to live up to its promise, largely as a result of limitations on worker eligibility, inadequate funding and outreach, and unnecessary and burdensome procedural requirements.”

“Overall, we are asking the GAO to look at the effectiveness of the TAA program, including the steps taken by the Department of Labor and state workforce agencies to inform workers and employers about the TAA program,” said Smith. “We also want to look at what are the major reasons for denial of TAA petitions by the Department of Labor.”

The request also addresses the lack of training currently available and asks the GAO if those funding levels require an increase. The Congressmen also seek information regarding how many workers are adversely affected by shortages in training funds and what level of funding would be necessary to adequately meet the training needs of all workers enrolled in TAA.  Many states, including Washington, run out of training funding every year and as a result, many eligible workers are not able to access necessary skills and training programs.

Also, many workers eligible for certain programs under TAA, including the wage insurance program and the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC), do not take advantage of these programs and the request asks the GAO to look into this discrepancy.

In October of last year, Smith introduced the TAA Improvement Act (HR 4156) with over 100 Members of Congress supporting the bill and over 10 labor unions and organizations endorsing the bill. The request asks the GAO to look at some of the key points in this legislation including:

  • What would be the expected increase in petitions and enrollment if TAA eligibility criteria were expanded to cover all service workers?
  • What would be the expected enrollment if the DOL could certify TAA petitions on an industry-wide basis, i.e. certify as eligible for TAA all workers within a domestic industry subject to a trade remedy under U.S.  antidumping, countervailing or safeguard laws, or all workers laid off from an industry otherwise certified as being adversely-impacted by trade?
  • What would be the effect on enrollment in the HCTC if the credit was increased to cover 80% of the cost of health insurance premiums?

“The TAA program is an important component of our commitment to continually improving the ability of our workers to upgrade their skills and compete in the global economy,” said Smith. “I hope that the GAO will look at the serious issues that affect TAA and I will continue to work with my colleagues to pass real TAA reform.”