Legislators stump for federal relief as state braces for flood of unemployed

by Justin Ware

The federal government assuaged the airline industry’s concerns last week when it allocated $15 million toward its financial pain. Now the state looks to assist at least 10,000 people squeezed out of the industry.

“The federal level is the only level that can add quick cash relief,” said Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe, DFL-Erskine. “Minnesota will focus on the workers.”

The Senate Select Committee on Air Transportation and Economic Security will meet Wednesday to discuss options for assisting laid-off employees.

Program officials anticipate 6,000 of the 10,000 people Northwest laid off Friday to come to the state for financial and job training assistance.

“Prior to Sept. 11, we were going to go to June 30, 2002, with what we had,” said Paul Moe, director of the state’s Dislocated Workers Program.

The state is asking for $24 million in federal aid to assist Minnesota’s unemployed, Paul Moe said.

The $15 billion federal government package includes $5 billion in direct grants and $10 billion in loan guarantees.

Lawmakers intend to put an additional $3 billion toward upgrading air-travel security, Roger Moe said. Airlines and airports are currently responsible for safety funding.

“This package is urgently needed,” said Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., in a written statement. “We must next move forward to make flying safer.”

Financial assistance aside, government control of airline security will add uniformity and increase efficiency.

Wellstone said he also wants $3.75 billion in federal funds to ease the burden of unemployment across the nation.

He said it is important to remember the decrease in air travel affects more than just airline workers.

“It will be important to provide a package … to all workers displaced by the ripple effects of this economic downturn,” he said.

Paul Moe said airline downsizing will drastically affect Minnesota’s economy statewide.

“All hospitality, all food, catering and other industries related to airlines are being affected,” Paul Moe said.

Roger Moe said a priority of Wednesday’s meeting will be looking at rural Minnesota and the many small airports located outside the metro area.

Mesaba Airlines has already announced discontinuation of service to Thief River Falls and several other communities around the Midwest.

Roger Moe said the Sept. 11 attacks reaffirmed his commitment to the state’s Dislocated Worker’s Program, which came under fire last session when the governor wanted to eliminate it.

Roger Moe said the program was needed for layoffs that occurred before the attacks in companies such as 3M and Honeywell.

John Wodele, a spokesman for Gov. Jesse Ventura, said funding for the program’s services could be reallocated.

Wodele said the program was originally started in the 1950s to train unskilled workers, and much of it is outdated and no longer needed.

But Roger Moe argued the program simply needs more funding.

“The bottom line,” Roger Moe said, “is we need to get people flying again.”

Justin Ware welcomes comments at [email protected]