The Labor Department today announced that it had approved Trade Adjustment Assistance for the former employees of the bankrupt solar panel maker Solyndra.
That means all of the firm’s 1,100 ex-employees are eligible for federal aid packages, including job retraining and income assistance. The department has valued packages at about $13,000 a head.
Taxpayers will have to cough up yet another $14.3 million as a result of Solyndra’s bankruptcy. They are already on the hook for $528 million in federal loan guarantees to the company that are unlikely to ever be paid back.
The department’s decision also bodes well for a trade complaint made against China by a coalition of domestic solar panel makers. The request for the TAA was based on the claim that Solyndra failed because China was underselling U.S. manufacturers. By granting the assistance, the Labor Department has indicated it believes those charges have at least some merit.
The announcement was made quietly today by the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration on its website. The decision was reached Friday.
There was some confusion regarding the decision, which was posted on the DOL website accidentally this morning before the official announcement. A department spokesman told Capital Hill that a programming error was the cause. DOL briefly pulled the information, but has reposted it.
The TAA request was first made on Sept. 2, just days after Solyndra went bankrupt. The Alameda County Workforce Investment Board, a public-private group that aids in job retraining programs, made the request on behalf of the employees.
“We are very pleased,” said Patti Castro, interim director of the board. “These workers are highly skilled but they need the retraining available through this.”
Most TAA requests take 60 days to process according to DOL, but this one took about 80.
The department said the delay was caused by a Senate fight over reauthorizing the program.
“During that period all pending TAA announcements were put on hold,” said DOL spokesman Joshua Lamont.
That fight was triggered in part by Republican lawmakers’ outrage that Solyndra employees were up for TAA help.
As it happens, the decision to grant the aid was made the day after Energy Secretary Steven Chu had a long-expected and highly contentious hearing before a House panel over the Solyndra failure.
Lamont said the administration did not delay the decision until after Chu’s testimony.
The Obama administration has apparently pushed to delay bad news regarding Solyndra before.
The TAA program offers help to domestic workers who have lost their jobs due to the trade practices of foreign countries. The assistance includes job retraining, allowances for job searching, health benefits and up to 130 weeks of income support. The average recipient gets about $13,000 in assistance.
Solyndra was given a $535 million federal loan guarantee in 2009 by the Obama administration as part of a program to boost green jobs. The company was a favorite of the administration, with President Obama himself visiting its Fremont, Calif., location and singing its praises in 2010.
A top Obama fundraiser, George Kaiser, was a major backer of the company through his namesake foundation and discussed the company with White House officials in at least one private meeting in 2010.
Behind the scenes, the company was bleeding cash and seeking a second DOE loan to stay afloat. By late 2010 it had defaulted on the original loan and DOE agreed to a restructuring to allow the company to survive.
The renegotiation included giving private investors first crack at the first $75 million recovered in the event of liquidation. The decision was in apparent violation of DOE loan rules. It all but ensures that taxpayers will recover none of the original loan