Point workers eligible for help
Wednesday, 29 August 2012 13:21

U.S. Senators announce aid to steel employees

by Nicole Rodman

When RG Steel declared bankruptcy on May 31, they began laying off the Sparrows Point plant’s nearly 2,000 workers.
 As RG searched for a buyer for the mill, steelworkers, including United Steelworkers Local 9477 president Joe Rosel, hoped that they could find a new operator to reopen the plant.
    Last week, the process began to wind down as the sale of the RG Steel mill at Sparrows Point was approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin Carey.
    The new owners, Hilco Industrial (a liquidator) and Environmental Liability Transfer (a redeveloper) have signaled, tentatively, that they are open to finding a new buyer to obtain the plant and return it to operation.
   

However, with the mill being sold for $72 million (less than a tenth of the $810 million paid by Russian steelmaker Severstal in 2008) and no bidders coming forward to place an initial stalking-horse bid at the Aug. 7 auction, that hope may be dimming.
    Now, as the future of the Sparrows Point steel mill looks cloudy, U.S. Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin announce new federal assistance for steelworkers facing unemployment.
     According to a press release issued last Wednesday, employees and retirees of RG Steel will now be eligible for a variety of benefits and job retraining programs.
    In June, shortly after the closure of the steel mill, Mikulski and Cardin wrote a letter to U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) Secretary Hilda Solis and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Douglas H. Shulman seeking their assistance in aiding workers at Sparrows Point.   
    Finally, after months of waiting, a number of new benefits programs for steelworkers have been announced.
    In a press release last week, Mikulski described the federal assistance as “welcome news for workers and their families continuing to struggle with the closure of Sparrows Point.”
    She added, “I believe that in America, if you work hard and play by the rules, you should have a fair shot at supporting your family after losing a job through no fault of your own,” she said. “I will continue to do all I can to get information and answers for the workers at Sparrows Point so that they can access the care and support they have earned and deserve.”
    Among benefits announced for eligible workers is the Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program.
    TAA provides financial benefits and job resources to workers who have lost jobs due to increased imports or foreign production.
    Sparrows Point workers will also be eligible for the Health Care Tax Credit (HCTC).
    Part of the TAA program, HCTC provides access to more affordable health insurance coverage  for workers and retirees.
    HCTC participants pay a portion of their health insurance premium directly to the HCTC program each month.
    After receiving the partial payment, HCTC adds the rest of the balance and sends the payment to the insurance company.
    HCTC can also be applied by making full payments to the insurance company all year and applying for the HCTC as a tax credit.
    For Cardin, the TAA and HCTC benefits are “positive news for RG steelworkers and their families.”
    “RG steelworkers have lost their jobs through no fault of their own and I have strongly urged DOL to provide RG steelworkers with TAA to help with retraining and HCTC to help pay for health care costs,” Cardin explained last week, noting,
“These benefits will help steelworkers and their families weather this dislocation.”
    Laid-off Sparrows Point steel mill employees can apply for TAA benefits by visiting the Baltimore County Workforce Development Center at Eastpoint, 7930 Eastern Blvd.
    For more information on Workforce Development Centers across Baltimore County visit www.dllr.state.md.us/county/baco/.
    HCTC coverage can be obtained through the IRS at 866-628-HCTC (4282).    
    For more information on applying for these benefits go to www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/taa_information_guide.pdf.