Millions of Dollars in Federal Funding Approved for HC&S Workers

March 24, 2016, 8:26 AM HST · Updated March 25, 6:24 AM
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Puʻunēnē Sugar Mill. Photo by Wendy Osher. (March 2016)

Puʻunēnē Sugar Mill. Photo by Wendy Osher. (March 2016)

Today, the U.S. Department of Labor approved a petition for federal aid that will provide millions of dollars in federal funding for displaced workers at the Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company on Maui.

This marks the first time ever that Hawai‘i sugar plantation workers displaced by foreign trade will receive these funds.

US Senator Brian Schatz, who worked closely with USDOL Secretary Tom Perez to identify the federal funding and determine HC&S’s eligibility, praised the announcement saying, “This is great news for these workers and for Maui.”

Senator Schatz, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee continued saying, “For these workers, this federal money means they have additional financial support to make ends meet and an opportunity to gain new skills and find a new job. I thank Secretary Perez for working with me since the closure was announced and for moving quickly to help these workers.”

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The amount workers will receive depends on individual circumstances, but workers may be able to access up to $2,000 a month in direct cash support for an additional year or longer while they are retrained to find a new job.  The federal money will provide compensation to help replace lost wages and will cover the expenses for job retraining, including tuition, books, and transportation.

The new federal funding will provide additional support for HC&S workers on top of already existing state benefits that they are entitled to receive. In addition, workers at companies that are impacted by HC&S’s closure may also be eligible for the same benefits and the companies may be eligible for business consulting services.

Last week, Senator Schatz announced that HC&S’s workers were eligible for the federal aid through Trade Adjustment Assistance or “TAA” as a matter of statute. The TAA program provides benefits to eligible workers who lost their jobs due to the adverse effects of foreign trade. Last year, Senator Schatz cosponsored legislation to reauthorize the worker aid program.

Displaced HC&S workers who have questions on accessing federal relief can contact their local Workforce Development Division One-Stop Office at (808) 984-2091.

Senator Mazie K. Hirono hailed US Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez’s decision to approve the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 142’s request for Trade Adjustment Assistance and Alternative TAA for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company workers displaced by the cessation of sugar production.

“As nearly 700 HC&S employees complete Hawaii’s final sugar harvest and consider their next steps, they now have access to federal funding for employment placement assistance, income and health care support, and other job retraining and education programs through the Trade Adjustment Assistance program,” said Senator Hirono. “We must continue to coordinate our efforts to ensure HC&S employees and their families’ needs are met during this time of transition. I thank Secretary Perez for his immediate attention in approving ILWU Local 142’s TAA petition.”

“ILWU has stood up for Hawaii’s sugar workers since the 1940s and we will continue to support our members and their families as HC&S ceases sugar operations,” said Donna Domingo, president of ILWU Local 142. “We are pursuing all avenues of assistance to find new opportunities for HC&S employees, including through the federal TAA program. I thank Secretary Perez for granting our petition, and Senator Hirono for her support throughout this effort.”

“We are grateful to our Hawaiʻi senators for reaching out to Secretary Perez, making this opportunity available to our employees, and successfully urging the prompt approval of the TAA request,” said Christopher J. Benjamin, A&B president and chief executive officer, who ran HC&S as its general manager from 2009 to 2011. “Our responsibility to our HC&S employees will not end with the cessation of sugar production, and we remain committed to working closely with the ILWU, Senator Hirono, our entire Hawaiʻi delegation, and state and county officials to ensure that we are doing everything we can to assist them.”

Last week, Senator Hirono wrote to Secretary Perez to emphasize the impact that the cessation of sugar production will have on Maui County. The closing of sugar production will mean the eventual laying off of 675 workers on Maui by the end of the year. TAA includes training, job search assistance, and other resources for workers who have lost their jobs due to foreign trade. Each application for TAA must be approved by the Secretary of Labor before workers can access this program. Click here to learn more about the Trade Adjustment Assistance Program.

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