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Senate Considers More Funds For IT Retraining

Out-of-work technology pros looking for federal money for retraining and extended unemployment and health benefits may get some good news this week.

The Senate is slated to discuss an amendment to the Jumpstart Our Business Strength Act (S.1637), known as the Jobs Act, that could deliver benefits of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program to IT employees whose work is considered a service and whose jobs have been outsourced outside the United States.

Under the current Trade Adjustment Assistance program, employees involved in creating goods--such as factory workers--who lose their jobs to foreign trade are eligible to receive retraining and health benefits. But the Department of Labor, which administers the program, has denied those benefits to IT workers who have lost jobs to offshore outsourcing because it determined they don't make tangible "articles," a requirement of the Trade Act of 2002.

The bipartisan Trade Adjustment Assistance Equity for Service Workers Act is sponsored by Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn. The Bush administration has opposed expanding the TAA program. In January, a group of former software workers from companies such as IBM who lost their jobs to offshore outsourcing filed a class-action lawsuit against the administration after being denied TAA benefits.

In recent weeks, there have been indications that the White House might change its position. "The administration has been supportive," says a spokeswoman for Sen. Baucus. "I believe it's something they'd seriously consider." Calls to the White House weren't returned.