Bill aims to help laid-off workers

Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt introduced a bill Tuesday to provide financial assistance, training and health care coverage to employees of the airlines and related industries — such as the Boeing Co. — who will be laid off in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The legislation mirrors a $3.75 billion package introduced in the Senate by Sen. Jean Carnahan, D-Mo. It would cover workers at airlines, airports, suppliers to airlines and commercial aircraft manufacturers such as Boeing. Only workers who lost their jobs because of the attacks or subsequent security measures would be covered, with eligibility determined by the labor secretary.

Flanked by more than 30 Democrats, Gephardt, D-Mo., said more than 100,000 jobs have been jeopardized in the airline and aerospace industries as a result of the attacks.

Workers "lost their jobs, not by their own doing, not by something they did or didn’t do," he said. "They lost their jobs because of the attack. They are as innocent in this as anyone."

Gephardt said he hoped Congress would work quickly to include the bill in an airline security package now in the works, or in other legislation.

Some Republicans have resisted or given lukewarm support to a worker assistance package, worried that such a measure would mean many other industries would get in line for help.

The bill is similar to measures that some Democrats, including Gephardt and many from Washington state, unsuccessfully fought to include in the $15 billion financial aid package for airlines passed Friday.

At the time, House Republican leaders promised quick action for workers.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., whose district includes Boeing’s massive assembly plant in Everett, said that just as Congress took care of companies last week, it needs to take care of workers now.

"They don’t know if they are going to be able to pay the next monthly mortgage. They don’t know if they are going to be able to pay the next installment on their kid’s braces. They don’t know if they are gong to be able to get up the next morning and have a job to go to," Larsen said.

Under the proposal:

  • Individuals who exhaust their 26-week eligibility for state unemployment insurance would receive an additional 52 weeks of federal payments. Workers who don’t meet their state’s requirements would receive 26 weeks of federal unemployment insurance.

  • People not expected to return to their jobs in the airline or aviation industries would receive job retraining benefits. Those who find alternative jobs within the industries could receive additional training.

  • Federally subsidized benefits would be provided to allow laid-off workers to buy into their employer’s health plan. Medicaid coverage would be provided for those without such coverage. Benefits would last 18 months.

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