PORTLAND (AP) – The U.S. Labor Department is providing $9.3 million to the help the state provide health care insurance for hundreds of workers who have lost their jobs because of foreign competition, officials said Thursday.

About 2,800 workers, including those who lost their jobs at Great Northern Paper, are currently eligible to receive the assistance in the form of an advance tax credit to pay two-thirds of their health insurance premiums.

Maine is the first state to provide health coverage for displaced workers under the federal Trade Adjustment Assistance program, said Sen. Olympia Snowe.

The funding was part of last year’s reauthorization of the TAA program, which was part of a trade bill approved by Congress. Snowe, R-Maine, insisted on the insurance program for displaced workers.

For the first time, those eligible for the TAA program can get tax credits to pay for 65 percent of health insurance costs.

“Until now, while displaced workers have received retraining benefits and other opportunities, they have faced serious challenges in affording health coverage to themselves and their families,” she said.

Maine was one of several states that applied for emergency grants as a bridge before the national program takes effect in August, said Kathy Dostie, who manages the state trade program for the Maine Department of Labor.

Among the first in line will be those laid off from Great Northern Paper’s mills in Millinocket and East Millinocket.

More than 1,100 people lost their jobs in late December, and the previous owner filed for bankruptcy protection in January.

Toronto-based Brascan Corp. bought the company for $103 million, but initial operations were expected to require only about 550 jobs with the re-opening of the East Millinocket operations next month.

AP-ES-05-29-03 1603EDT

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