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Obama Proposes New Jobs Deal for Veterans

By Bill Leonard  2/8/2012
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President Barack Obama on Feb. 3, 2012, unveiled a $5 billion proposal to boost hiring and create job opportunities for veterans of the U.S. Armed Forces. Obama’s proposal would create a Veterans Job Corps and offer more federal grant money to help municipal governments hire more police officers and firefighters.

Obama outlined the plan during a media event at a fire station in Arlington, Va.; firefighters from the station were among the first rescue personnel to respond to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the Pentagon. The president said that the jobs plan would focus on creating work opportunities for veterans who have served in the military after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“This has been a top priority of mine,” Obama said during the event. “These are Americans that every business should be competing to attract. We’re going to do everything we can to make sure that when our troops come home, they come home to new jobs and new opportunities and new ways to serve their country.”

Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that 11.1 percent of post-Sept. 11 veterans are unemployed, compared with the national jobless rate of 8.3 percent. Obama called the nearly 3 percentage point difference unacceptable and said that the country needs to do better to ensure that veterans find jobs when they return to civilian life.

Reminiscent of CCC

The president said that he was requesting $1 billion in the federal budget to create a Veterans Job Corps. The job corps proposal is reminiscent of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which was part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal economic recovery act during the Great Depression.

According to Obama’s proposal, the U.S. Department of the Interior would administer the job corps program, which would put veterans to work rebuilding hiking trails and roads and restoring habitats on public lands. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters during a phone briefing that the CCC provides a great model for developing the Veterans Job Corps.

“When we look back at the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, we take great comfort that those who take on these kinds of activities will leave a lasting legacy for the United States,” Salazar said.

As part of the jobs plan, Obama proposed $4 billion for federal government grant programs that provide funding to communities that hire veterans to work as police officers and firefighters.

In addition, the president proposed expanding a training program to help veterans who are trying to start small businesses. In August 2011, the White House announced that the departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs were working with the Small Business Administration to develop a two-day training program. Obama said that he will seek to expand this program and ensure that it is available to all U.S. military personnel who are planning to leave active duty.

It was unclear how Obama’s proposal will be received on Capitol Hill. Programs designed to help military veterans find jobs typically have strong bipartisan support. However, any request for extra funding for government programs faces an uphill battle.

Nearly $1 billion was appropriated in 2011 for the hiring grant programs, but the request for an additional $5 billion to fund the grants and jobs corps program could face stiff opposition from Republicans in the House.

“We must always look to plot the course ahead that serves the best interest of our veterans in the long term. It starts with getting our economy going again,” said Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., chairman of the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, in a written statement. “Short-term spending and temporary programs have failed and are not the solution. I am hopeful that the Obama administration will work with Congress to get our businesses hiring again in order to give America’s veterans the chance to lead the successful and productive lives they deserve when they return home.”

Bill Leonard is a senior writer for SHRM.

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