AIKEN - About 1,600 Avondale Mills employees who are scheduled to be laid off from the company's Graniteville operations this month have been approved for a range of federal benefits that include money for job training and relocation.
The federal Labor Department approved a petition from South Carolina for help under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, members of South Carolina's U.S. legislative delegation announced in a joint statement Wednesday.
"Nothing can replace the loss the community has sustained from the closing of Avondale Mills," said U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., "but Trade Adjustment Assistance will give hope to those who have lost their jobs."
The federal assistance pays for up to 104 weeks of training and extends unemployment payments to workers who seek training by up to 52 weeks, among others. Avondale employees typically already qualify for 26 weeks of unemployment payments from the state.
South Carolina also was approved for help under the Alternative Trade Adjustment program, which provides additional benefits to workers older than 50, such as help with health insurance payments.
Both programs were approved because Avondale's closing can be attributed, at least in part, to increased foreign imports and cheap foreign labor, federal leaders stated. The closure also was spurred on because of last year's train crash and chlorine leak in Graniteville that corroded costly equipment, Avondale officials say.
Company spokesman Stephen Felker Jr., whose family owns Avondale, said federal benefits also were approved for plants in Alabama.
He said he was uncertain whether benefits had been approved for Georgia, which would affect about 115 workers at the company's Sibley Mill in Augusta.
"I think it's great," Mr. Felker said. "Anything to help our associates is definitely appreciated."
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Economic officials will be at Avondale Mills Inc. in coming days to explain federal benefits to workers who qualify.