February 23, 2011

Colby panel eyes results

By Leslie Bridgers lbridgers@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- More than 2,000 Maine workers who lost their jobs because of foreign trade receive career training, wage and health care support through a federal program that expired last week.

The proposed extension of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program has been hotly debated by members of Congress in recent weeks. It also was the topic of a timely panel discussion at Colby College's Ostrove Auditorium Tuesday night.

U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud, a member of the panel, said he was "extremely disappointed" that the proposal to extend the program was pulled from the House floor last week.

Michaud was joined on the panel by Colby seniors Caitlyn Fleming and Ann Norris, as well as Howard Rosen, executive director of the Trade Assistance Coalition in Washington, D.C.

The program was established in 1974 to support people who lost their manufacturing jobs. It was expanded in 2002 to cover some service workers and people who lost their jobs because of outsourcing, Rosen said. The program also started offering a 65 percent health care tax credit.

In 2009, he said, the program expanded again to include more workers and offer an 80 percent health care tax credit. Those amendments have now expired, and the program is operating under the 2002 amendments, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

Last month, Fleming and Norris studied the program's contributions to people in Maine, which has been hit hardest in the paper manufacturing, trucking and logging industries, they said.

They also interviewed Judith Mann, who had worked at the San Antonio Shoe factory in Pittsfield for 22 years before it shut down in 2010. The federal assistance has enabled her to take classes at Kennebec Valley Community College to become a mental health therapist, Fleming said.

Richard Harvell, who lost his job of 18 years when Wausau Paper in Jay shut down in 2009, is now studying at KVCC to be an occupational therapist assistant. The program reimburses the mileage for his commute to the campus.

Colby Dean of Faculty Lori Kletzer, who moderated the panel, said that labor economists like herself view international trade as a good thing in general.

American consumers save $1 trillion a year because of international trade, she said.

But there are "losers," she said, and those are the Americans who become unemployed.

The point of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program, she said, is for "the beneficiaries (to) transfer some of their gain to the losers."

Leslie Bridgers -- 861-9252



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