Congressman Faleomavaega announced today that he is responding to inquiries about H.R. 3920, the Trade and Globalization Assistance Act. Faleomavaega received inquiries from Samoa News in response to Governor Togiola’s radio program in which he stated that he planned to ask Faleomavaega for assistance in including American Samoa in this bill which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate.
“I thank the Governor for his interest in a matter my office has already been involved in for some time,” Faleomavaega said. “The issue is complex and I am hopeful that this press release will clear up some of the misunderstandings surrounding Trade Adjustment Assistance.”
“Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) provides income support and training to qualifying workers who lose their jobs as a direct result of increased imports or shifts in production out of the United States. However, the issue is complex for American Samoa because TAA is dependent upon a worker being eligible for unemployment compensation as defined by the unemployment insurance (UI) program.”
"Workers in American Samoa are not eligible for unemployment compensation as defined by the UI program, and it is unclear as to why this is the case. I have asked the Congressional Research Service to review American Samoa’s history, the history of the UI program, and transcripts of hearings held by Congress since the 1930s in an effort to get to the bottom of this.”
“In brief, the UI program was created in 1935 when millions lost their jobs in the Great Depression. The program works as follows. States and Territories tax their employers, or local businesses. From the taxes imposed on employers, States and Territories send a portion of these funds to the federal government to hold in trust for workers, or employees, who may become unemployed.”
“For example, to protect its workers, the State of Hawaii taxes Aloha Airlines and all other businesses operating in Hawaii. The State of Hawaii then sends a portion of the taxes it collects from these businesses to the federal government to hold in trust for workers who may become unemployed should Aloha Air, or any other business operating in Hawaii, lay off its workers.”
“If a worker is laid off, the worker can apply for unemployment benefits and can receive a check, or unemployment compensation from the trust fund, for up to 6 months. Again, the trust fund is made up of dollars collected by State governments that tax businesses operating in their State or Territory. These are not federal funds. The federal government only holds the funds in trust, and sends out the checks, or compensation, to the unemployed workers.”
“All 50 States plus the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico participate in the UI program. American Samoa and Guam do not. Therefore, when workers in American Samoa get laid off, they are not eligible for unemployment benefits from the trust fund.”
“Also, because the TAA program is calculated according to UI benefits, American Samoa cannot be included in the TAA program until such time as ASG is able to explain what kind of program it has in place to help unemployed workers and how it calculates how much money a worker should receive if he or she becomes unemployed.”
“First and foremost, we need to know if ASG is requiring our local businesses to pay taxes and, if so, how much. Then we need to know if ASG is setting aside a portion of those taxes to help our workers in case they become unemployed. We also need to know what kind of calculation ASG is using to send out unemployment checks, if any.”
“We will then use these calculations to make our case that ASG has some kind of program in place that may be used to calculate TAA benefits for our workers. If passed into law, TAA would provide qualifying workers with up to one year of unemployment benefits plus training should they become unemployed due to increased imports or shifts in production out of the United States.”
“However, the first 6 months of TAA benefits must be paid from the State taxes held in trust by the UI program. The last six months of TAA benefits will be paid by the federal government, and will be based on the UI benefit. This means that ASG must use the taxes it collects from our local businesses to pay TAA benefits to our workers for the first six months of their unemployment after which time the federal government would pay our workers for the last 6 months of their TAA benefits.”
“Like the Governor, I believe our workers should be eligible for TAA benefits if they so qualify and I am hopeful that ASG will move quickly to put a plan in place to pay for the first six months of TAA benefits should this become law. Once ASG determines its course of action, I will move forward with the federal side which will provide TAA benefits for the last six months of a worker’s unemployment, and also training.”
“But this effort will take time due to the mitigating circumstances which we face because ASG does not currently participate in the UI program. Given these unusual circumstances, I have asked that language be included, or a study undertaken, to determine how our workers might be able to participate if ASG is unable to do its part,” Faleomavaega concluded.