IP workers receive federal aid

Published 9:14 am Tuesday, December 29, 2009

FRANKLIN, Va. – The U.S. Department of Labor announced Wednesday that it has approved Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) benefits to the 1,100 workers who will be affected by the closure of the International Paper Co. paper mill.

The announcement was greeted with enthusiasm by leaders in two states.

“This is a significant and positive step towards offering the benefits that Gates County citizens affected by IP’s closing will need as they move forward in their lives,” Gates County Manager Toby Chappell said Monday morning.

He continued, “This opens up more avenues for unemployment benefits as well as those benefits being offered for a longer period of time. Those benefits will help all displaced IP workers by giving them the opportunity to have more time to seek out the training necessary to launch a new career.”

“It is wonderful news,” Franklin, Va. Mayor Jim Councill said Thursday. “Our congressional delegation has worked very hard for this and I am very appreciative of their efforts.”

According to numbers provided by International Paper, 217 members of its workforce at the Franklin mill listed North Carolina addresses. Of that number, Gates County leads the way with 84 workers. Hertford County (73), Northampton County (43) and Bertie County (7) also saw some of its residents affected by the closure. The remaining 10 North Carolina based workers hail from Chowan County, Perquimans County and Halifax County.

The announcement comes just one month after the Labor Department extended TAA benefits — designed to help workers who lost their jobs as a result of foreign trade — to 123 former IP sawmill employees.

“It took six months to get these benefits for the sawmill workers, but it took less than two months to get them for the paper mill workers,” Councill said. “The benefits are by no means a windfall, but they will help tremendously and are an extension of the benefits the mill workers rightly deserve.”

TAA offers a variety of benefits and services, including job retraining, income support while enrolled full time in a training program, job search and relocation allowances, and a tax credit to help offset the cost of health insurance. The program also provides wage supplements to certain re-employed, trade-affected workers age 50 and older.

U.S. Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, D-Va., made a joint statement announcing the news.

“This is timely and welcome news for more than a thousand families across southeastern Virginia, and I appreciate the Labor Department’s efforts to issue this certification as quickly as possible,” Warner said. “This assistance can be a lifeline to these workers who simply need some temporary help as they transition to new jobs in a tough economy.”

Webb concurred, adding, “It is a great relief that the Department of Labor today has granted necessary adjustment assistance to International Paper’s displaced workers in time for the holidays and before IP completes its plant closure next spring. Trade Adjustment Assistance will help these workers make the difficult transition to new jobs at a time when Virginia’s manufacturing industry faces hard times.”

The company plans to close the paper mill by spring. IP officials formally announced the closing in October.

(Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald Editor Cal Bryant contributed to this story. Charlie Passut is a Staff Writer for the Tidewater News in Franklin, Va., a sister publication of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.)