I started my career in Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA) as an unemployment insurance (UI) adjudicator back in the dark ages -- about six months after the 2002 law was passed. At that time, our TRA unit was located in the UI division and the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) unit was located in our Workforce Development Programs (WDP) division.
I continued to work in TRA at our UI office for another three years. During that time our UI program was working on a technology upgrade designed to integrate our manual TRA program. In 2005, it was determined that TRA would not be integrated into that program and a decision was made to move it to WDP so that we would be housed with the TAA unit and integrated into their MIS system.
Initially, this proposal seemed counterintuitive as TRA is a UI program; however, upon further consideration, I realized that I spent my entire day talking to the TAA unit and local area case managers. Since I had access to and was trained to use the UI system, I didn’t need to interact with my fellow UI employees very often; of course, special cases arose that required collaboration, such as federal extended benefits or HCTC that required us to work closely with UI to ensure that the TRA payments were processed correctly with the change in the UI benefits.
The move to WDP was a huge change for our TRA staff. We left a very structured UI environment for a more relaxed environment at WDP where we were able to interact more easily with our TAA counterparts and our local case managers. We were also able to start providing more TRA training to our case managers, which has significantly increased their understanding of the types of TRA and the importance of the deadlines associated with it.
The move also facilitated increased interactions with TAA (since we were in the same unit and sat together) and this proximity permitted us to better understand the TAA portion of the program and the definition of full-time training. Because of this collaborative environment, we made better TRA decisions.
Each program (UI and Workforce Development) has their own language and jargon. By moving over to WDP, I was able to learn this language, which helped me better explain the TRA requirements to our local areas. Their improved understanding of TRA has resulted in more of their customers receiving TRA benefits and local case managers asking fewer questions because they understand the program better. This streamlining means that we spend our time answering more complex questions and requests.
Overall, I see the TRA program as a bridge between WDP and UI. It doesn’t really fit in either division, but it brings the two divisions together because we can’t properly do our jobs without input from and access to UI, TAA, and the local area case managers. Our TRA payments are in the process of being moved to the new UI payment system that was recently implemented. Despite this change in computer systems, we still plan to keep the TRA program co-located with TAA because it has proven to facilitate positive outcomes for the program.