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Congressmen want benefits for laid-off IT workers

Feb 20, 20043 mins
Enterprise ApplicationsStaff Management

U.S. IT workers displaced when their companies outsource jobs overseas should have access to job training and other assistance programs, a group of U.S. congressmen said Friday.

Four Democrats plan to introduce a bill next week that would extend a government program called Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) to high-tech and other service workers. TAA provides income support, job training, job searching and relocation assistance, as well as health care tax credits, to workers who have lost their jobs due to foreign trade. TAA benefits are now available only to workers in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors.

Outsourcing and other job loss is an “emerging issue everywhere in the country,” said Representative Jay Inslee (D-Wash.). Inslee and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) pushed for the proposal at a press conference with laid-off IT workers in Seattle on Friday.

Backers of the proposal don’t yet have a cost estimate for the expanded TAA program, Inslee said. About 250,000 U.S. workers could qualify for the program next year, according to some estimates.

“It’s a very good investment, because it’s an investment in people,” Inslee said. “I believe it will pay off in the long term by keeping those workers productive and contributing to the economy.”

The new proposal, which would extend TAA benefits to a range of service workers including software programmers, network engineers and other high-tech workers, will be sponsored by Inslee, Smith, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.). Also covered in the proposal would be workers from other service industries, including insurance and marketing.

TAA programs include employment counseling and job development services, reimbursement for job search expenses outside the worker’s local commuting area, reimbursement for relocating for a job, income support for up to 104 weeks beyond normal unemployment benefits, tax credits covering up to 65% of monthly health insurance premiums and payments for training. To receive TAA benefits, workers must show they lost their jobs due to foreign trade.

IT workers who’ve lost their jobs because of offshore outsourcing would qualify under the new proposal, said an Inslee spokeswoman. But workers affected by other trade issues — for example, a U.S. computer manufacturer that lost business to foreign competition — would also quality under the proposal.

With offshore outsourcing becoming a major political issue this year, the bill may generate some attention in Congress, said Inslee’s spokeswoman. “I get the feeling we have a decent chance this year,” she said.