Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers
CRS Report for Congress
Trade Adjustment Assistance for Farmers
Geoffrey S. Becker
Specialist in Agricultural Policy
Resources, Science, and Industry Division
The 107th Congress in late July and early August 2002 cleared for the President’s
signature a wide-ranging trade bill (H.R. 3009) that includes reauthorization and
expansion of trade adjustment assistance (TAA) programs for workers and firms. One
TAA provision authorizes a new $90 million annual program for agriculture, aimed at
addressing low farm prices caused at least partly by imports. Among the issues is the
need for a new program designed specifically for farmers in ranchers, particularly after
Congressional approval, earlier in 2002, of a comprehensive 6-year farm bill that
significantly expands farm commodity support. This report will be updated if events
U.S. workers and firms have long been eligible to apply for trade adjustment
assistance (TAA) under separate programs operated through the Departments of Labor
(DOL) and Commerce (DOC), respectively. The TAA programs provide extended
unemployment benefits and training support for workers, and technical assistance to
firms, that are adversely affected by federal policies that reduce barriers to foreign trade.
Many economists prefer TAA over trade restrictive remedies because it directs assistance
to those most affected and does so without distorting prices, although some critics have
questioned the need for this assistance and/or its effectiveness.1
Legislative authority for TAA for workers and firms expired at the end of FY2001,th2
as the 107 Congress considered legislation to extend it. A TAA bill approved by the
Senate Finance Committee in late 2001 included a new TAA program specifically for
producers of agricultural commodities. This program was incorporated into a more wide-
ranging Senate trade bill and was retained by House-Senate conferees in July 2002. The
final conference version of the trade bill, with the agriculture TAA, was cleared by
Congress and is expected to be signed by the President (see "Congressional Action").
1 Examples of trade restrictive remedies are higher import tariffs obtained through anti-dumping
and countervailing duty actions. See: CRS Report RL31296, Trade Remedies and Agriculture.
2 Although the program authorization expired, it continued to operate in FY2002 with funds
appropriated in P.L. 107-116.
Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress
Current TAA Programs 3
TAA programs were first authorized in 1962. However, Title II of the Trade Act of
1974 (P.L. 93-618), as amended, provides the most recent legislative foundation for three
separate programs. They are TAA for workers; the North American Free Trade
Agreement Transitional Adjustment Assistance Program (NAFTA-TAAP), also for
workers; and TAA for firms.
TAA for Workers. A group of unemployed workers can seek assistance under
either TAA or NAFTA-TAAP by petitioning the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and
proving that competition from foreign imports “contributed importantly” to their
employer’s loss of business. Under NAFTA-TAAP, eligibility also can be established by
showing that the employer relocated the jobs to Mexico or Canada. Under both programs,
each worker must establish individual eligibility by: qualifying for state unemployment
compensation (UC) benefits; working for the affected firm in at least 26 of the 52 weeks
before layoff; and receiving at least $30 per week from the firm. Total federal cost of the
two programs is an estimated $416 million in FY2002.
Once eligible, a worker is entitled to weekly cash benefits (i.e., trade readjustment
allowances) equivalent to the state’s UC benefits, payable after the state UC payments
have been exhausted, for up to an additional 52 weeks; up to 104 weeks of required
training for a new job (DOL can waive TAA training under certain conditions); and
allowances of $800 for out-of-town job searches and $800 for relocation to take a new
Agricultural Worker Assistance.Relatively few petitions for agricultural
worker assistance have been filed or approved since the start of the current TAA program
in 1974 and NAFTA-TAAP in 1994, according to DOL. For example, from FY1994 to
FY2000, only 35 certifications were in agriculture, covering an estimated 5,135 workers.
Of these, 2,181 were employees of Florida vegetable firms (1,334 from a single fresh
tomato packing company alone). Florida vegetable producers filed numerous claims after
1994 in reaction to increased Mexican imports, an outgrowth, DOL asserts, of the
Mexican peso devaluation (i.e., not NAFTA itself).4 Other certified workers came from
various flower and nursery, beef, table grape, mushroom, apple, poultry, and fresh
vegetable companies in a number of different states.
As noted, these workers primarily are paid employees in established firms. Farmers
and ranchers typically cannot qualify for either of the worker programs for a number of
3 This section is based on information from Jim Storey, Specialist in Social Legislation, CRS
Domestic Social Policy Division; the CRS Trade Electronic Briefing Book, Trade Adjustment
Assistance for Workers and Trade Adjustment Assistance for Firms; and the 1997 Overview and
Compilation of U.S. Trade Statutes published by the House Ways and Means Committee.
4 Data and DOL analysis from Report on Trade Adjustment Assistance for Agricultural
Commodity Producers, October 26, 2000, to the House Ways and Means Committee. The report
was required by Section 408 of the Trade and Development Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-200).
5 Source: Storey; Report on Trade Adjustment Assistance for Agricultural Commodity Producers.
!Farmers and ranchers mainly are self-employed and therefore rarely
eligible for unemployment benefits;
!The TAA law emphasizes training for a new demand occupation and tries
to condition income payments on such training. Agricultural producers
are less likely than other workers to want to be retrained for a new
occupation – especially if they are still earning income from other crops
or from non-farm income;
!The 1974 trade act ties eligibility to “increases of imports of articles like
or directly competitive with articles produced by such workers’ firm.”
Agricultural firms are explicitly covered, but only if they produce
!Farmworkers (as opposed to farm owners and operators) may qualify for
unemployment benefits, but low-paid seasonal work may keep them
below the earnings and work history thresholds under state UC programs.
TAA for Firms. Compared with worker TAA, the program for firms is small, with
direct appropriations ranging between $8 million and $13 million per year. The program
provides technical assistance, via 12 regional Trade Adjustment Assistance Centers,
primarily to individual manufacturing and producing businesses that can document
decreases in jobs and sales or production due to increased imports of like or similar
goods. Direct financial assistance (e.g., grants, loans) was discontinued in 1986.
Technical assistance generally is provided through private contractors and emphasizes the
development of new or improved products; production efficiency improvements; better
marketing; and other strategies to regain competitiveness.
Agricultural Firm Assistance. Between FY1995 and the first half of FY2000,
DOC’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) certified 29 agricultural and food
businesses for the program, including producers of fresh flowers, pineapples, pears,
carrots, maple syrup, and a number of seafood companies. More than $750,000 in
program funds were spent during the period to provide technical assistance to 20 of them.6
In the 106th Congress, the Senate had included, in a trade bill (H.R. 434) expanding
U.S. trade benefits to Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean, a new TAA program for
farmers. The program, sponsored by Senators Grassley and Conrad, was deleted from the
final bill in conference. Conferees instead inserted a requirement that DOL, in
consultation with DOC and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), submit a report
to Congress examining applicability of the current TAA programs to agricultural
commodity producers and making recommendations to improve their operation for such
producers or to establish a new program for them.7
In the 107th Congress, Senator Conrad introduced, on June 26, 2001, the Trade
Adjustment Assistance for Farmers Act (S. 1100), to add a new chapter to Title II of the
Trade Act of 1974 creating such a program for FY2002-FY2006. The bill’s language was
6 Report on Trade Adjustment Assistance for Agricultural Commodity Producers.
7 Section 408 of the Trade and Development Act of 2000 (P.L. 106-200), which resulted in the
above cited report.
incorporated into a broader measure to extend and amend the TAA programs, the Trade
Adjustment Assistance for Workers, Farmers, Communities, and Firms Act of 2001 (S.
1209), introduced July 19, 2001, by Senator Bingaman, which was substantially amended
and approved by the Senate Finance Committee on December 4, 2001 (S.Rept. 107-134).
TAA including the new program for farmers was incorporated into a substitute
amendment to H.R. 3009, extending the Andean Trade Preferences Act, that the Senate
approved on May 23, 2002. This larger substitute also contains trade promotion (fast
track) trade negotiating authority (TPA), an extension of the Generalized System of
Preferences, and several other provisions.
In late July, House and Senate conferees concluded their work on H.R. 3009, and it
includes (as Section 141) a slightly modified version of the farmer TAA program cleared
late last year by the Senate Finance Committee. The House approved the conference
report (H.Rept. 107-624) early on July 27, and the Senate did so on August 1, 2002.
Under the new program, a group of agricultural producers can petition the Secretary
of Agriculture to be certified as eligible for TAA. The Secretary then has 40 days to
determine whether the national average price for the affected commodity or class of goods
from that commodity (for the most recent marketing year) was less than 80% of the
average price for the prior 5 years, and imports of “articles like or directly competitive
with” the commodity in question “contributed importantly” to the price decline. The bill
defines this as “a cause which is important but not necessarily more important than any
If a determination were so made, each member of the eligible group would have 90
days to apply to the Secretary for a cash payment equal to: one-half of the difference
between the most recent year’s national average price and 80% of the preceding 5
marketing years, times his or her production for the year. An individual commodity
producer’s benefits under the program are limited to $10,000 in any 12-month period, and
all claims are to be decreased proportionately, if necessary, to ensure that the total national
cost of the program does not exceed the annual funding level, which the legislation sets
at $90 million (for each fiscal year, 2003 through 2007).
An applicant’s net farm income (as determined by USDA) for the most recent year
must be less than his or her net farm income for the latest year in which no adjustment
assistance was received. Those with average adjusted gross income above $2.5 million
per year are ineligible if less than 75% of that income is from farming, ranching, or
forestry. The applicant also must certify that he or she has met with an Extension Service
agent to obtain information and technical assistance on how to adjust to import
competition, including improving competitiveness in producing and marketing the
import-affected commodity, and possibly shifting to an alternative commodity. Payment
recipients cannot receive cash benefits under any other TAA program. However, they are
8 The legislation also requires the U.S. International Trade Commission to notify the Secretary
of Agriculture when it begins a “section 202," i.e., safeguard, investigation of a particular
agricultural commodity, and for the Secretary in turn to study and report to the President on
potential U.S. producer eligibility for TAA for the affected commodity.
permitted (but not required, as are other workers) to use other job training and related
employment services offered through the TAA programs.
The Labor Department report on TAA for agriculture observed that the existing
programs for workers emphasize retraining those who have lost their jobs so that they can
find other occupations. “Any modifications to these DOL programs such as to provide
financial assistance to workers to remain in their current occupations runs counter to the
emphasis of these important readjustment programs.” The Commerce TAA program for
firms “provides opportunities for agriculture commodity producers who have been injured
by lost sales and reduced the number of their employees due to increased imports to
receive limited technical assistance, on a cost shared basis, that will help them regain their
economic competitiveness.” However, the program has funding limitations and “no
authority to provide any direct financial assistance in the form of loans, loan guarantees,
or income supplements, to trade injured firms.”
If lawmakers consider legislation to assist agricultural producers and workers
affected adversely by imports, it should be “enacted separately and apart” from the current
programs, the report concludes. (The newly-approved program is a separate one.)
In the report on its TAA bill S. 1209 (S.Rept. 107-134), the Senate Finance
Committee said it “recognizes that the dislocations that can be suffered by farmers and
ranchers when imports surge as a result of the liberalization of agricultural trade are as
economically devastating as those experienced by manufacturing workers who lose their
jobs when their plant relocates abroad. Yet, when rising imports result in a collapse of
commodity prices, individual farmers and ranchers do not become unemployed in the
same way as other workers and therefore cannot take advantage of the [existing] TAA
The committee report cited testimony by the North Dakota Farmers Union (at a July
21, 2001, hearing): “When agricultural trade agreements fail to provide for fair
competition or allow adjustments to offset the impact of import surges, farmers, ranchers,
and fishermen are the ones who suffer due to their inability to influence or rapidly adjust
to changed market conditions.” A TAA program for farmers would be a fair and logical
means for “U.S. agriculture to better cope and adjust to the effects of import competition.”
It also could be argued that the commodities most likely to be affected by import
surges – and to qualify for the new program – are those that receive few subsidies relative
to other crops. For example, since the United States entered into NAFTA, some fruit and
vegetable growers (particularly in Florida) contend that they have been economically
harmed by stiff Mexican competition; livestock producers also have raised concerns about
the price impacts of Mexican and Canadian imports. These types of producers are not
generally eligible for the types and level of direct payments and price support offered to
those who grow row crops like wheat, corn, cotton, soybeans and rice.
A fundamental difference in the new farmer TAA is that it ties payments to the price
effects of an imported commodity. Current TAA eligibility for workers, on the other
hand, is based on loss of a job. Tying subsidies to price and production (either current or
past) has long been a key feature of the traditional USDA farm support programs. And,
Congress has passed, and the President signed, on May 13, 2002, omnibus farm
legislation (H.R. 2646, P.L. 107-171) that is estimated to provide $99 billion in
commodity price and income support over 6 years (FY2002-FY2007). This total includes
$38 billion in new budget authority, above baseline estimates (i.e., what the programs
would have cost if they had been reauthorized without changes).9 Some are critical of
establishing yet another agricultural subsidy program, even one with relatively lower
Moreover, agricultural producers already can, and do, seek relief through a variety
of established trade remedy laws when they believe they have been injured by imports.
The major avenues are safeguard investigations under the Trade Act of 1974, which can
lead to the imposition of temporary duties, quotas, or other restrictions on imports; and
anti-dumping and countervailing duty investigations under the Tariff Act of 1930, which
also can lead to import-constraining duties on agricultural goods.10
In the Labor Department report, USDA noted that low commodity prices are caused
by a variety of factors, including large U.S. and world commodity supplies, and reduced
demand in key consuming countries, particularly following recent financial problems
around the world, which reduced U.S. agricultural exports. “Increased U.S. imports,
while significant for some products, have generally not been a major factor in explaining
the decline in U.S. farm prices for major agricultural commodities.”
USDA said it had examined imports as a share of U.S. consumption for various
products and also data comparing the ratio of changes in imports to changes in domestic
production. This research does not support the argument that imports are the primary
cause of low prices, USDA concluded. The DOL-drafted report used these observations
to conclude that “TAA-type programs with their linkage to increased imports would not
help address low prices faced by agricultural commodity producers.”
A number of lawmakers believe that the expanded TAA package, including the new
program for farmers, was essential to passage of TPA. They argue that TPA would have
lacked enough support for final passage without the TAA provisions, aimed at cushioning
any potentially negative impacts from imports that future trade agreements (negotiated
under TPA procedures) might bring – although other lawmakers have disagreed with this
9 For background see CRS Report RS20848, Farm Commodity Programs: A Short Primer, and
CRS Report RL31195, The 2002 Farm Bill: Overview and Status.
10 For details on these and others see CRS Report RL31296, Trade Remedies and Agriculture.
11 See: CRS Report 97-817, Agriculture and Fast Track or Trade Promotion Authority.