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Solyndra Workers to Get Trade Adjustment Assistance Benefits

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Nov. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Employees fired by Solyndra LLC, the solar-panel maker that failed after receiving a $535 million federal loan guarantee, were certified for U.S. aid under a program for workers hurt by overseas competition.

The Labor Department decided to award trade-adjustment assistance on Nov. 18, according to a posting today on the agency’s website. Solyndra ceased operations on Aug. 31 amid cheaper imports from China.

Former Solyndra employees will be eligible for additional health and unemployment benefits. The program triggered a stalemate this year between President Barack Obama, who wanted to renew the aid, and Senate Republicans, who opposed linking the benefits to free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

Republicans led by Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah said the program was ineffective and too expensive as lawmakers cut the federal deficit. The request for aid by Solyndra workers added to evidence of its flaws, Hatch said on Sept. 20 on the Senate floor. Solyndra, based in Fremont, California, made products that cost more than domestic competitors’ and collapsed due to a failed business model, Hatch said.

“This is an embarrassment and shows that TAA is a program of questionable merit,” Julia Lawless, a spokeswoman for Hatch, said today in an e-mail.

California Application

California filed the application in September on behalf of the 1,100 Solyndra workers, citing Chinese subsidies to its alternative-energy industry for the loss of U.S. jobs, a Labor Department official who declined to be identified because of agency policy, said on Sept. 16. Solyndra filed for bankruptcy protection on Sept. 6.

The Republican-led House Energy and Commerce Committee is investigating the administration’s decision in 2009 to award a U.S. loan guarantee to the solar-panel maker, whose biggest investor raised money for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.

Solyndra’s bankruptcy filing was tied to “deteriorating market conditions” from an “acute drop in the price of solar cells,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said on Nov. 17 in testimony before a House Energy investigating panel.

Backed by Democrats on the subcommittee, Chu defended federal aid to companies such as Solyndra, saying federal support for clean-energy ventures is necessary to compete in a “fierce global race to capture” a market that will grow by “hundreds of billions of dollars” in coming decades. China has invested aggressively, he said.

The Labor Department mistakenly posted the decision on about 30 applications, including Solyndra’s, on its database earlier today because of a programming error. The agency retracted it then reposted, a Labor Department spokesman said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Eric Martin in Washington at emartin21@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Liebert at lliebert@bloomberg.net

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