Lawmakers seek to offer vets farming opportunities

Great Falls Tribune

by Jenn Rowell

Nearly half of those serving in the military come from rural communities and offering veterans more farming opportunities makes sense, according to Montana’s senators.

Last week, Democratic Sens. Max Baucus and Jon Tester introduced legislation to use farming as a tool to increase veteran employment and plan to attach the provisions to the farm bill, which is scheduled to be considered by the Senate Agriculture Committee on Tuesday. Baucus is a senior member of that committee.

“I’ve declared war on veterans’ unemployment, and that means looking for ways to boost job opportunities in everything we do, including the farm bill,” Baucus said in a release. “We are proud to have so many Montanans volunteer for service. And because so many of our servicemen and women come from rural areas like Montana, agriculture is a natural fit to help them find the jobs they need to return to that rural way of life.”

The bill would give veterans preference in programs that make it cheaper and easier to institute best practices in farming; create a new military liaison office to assist veterans at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and expand outreach programs to help make veterans aware of resources available to them. Similar provisions were in the farm bill the Senate passed last year, according to Baucus’ staff.

Veteran unemployment nationwide is higher than the rate of their civilian counterparts. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported in April that the unemployment rate for post-9/ 11 veterans was 9.2 percent in March, 1.6 percentage points higher than the rest of the country.

In Montana, the unemployment rate was 5.7 percent in January, according to data provided by Congress’ Joint Economic Committee.

Data from the committee related to veterans is based on 2011 figures and found that veterans make up 13.5 percent of Montana’s population.

The veteran unemployment rate in Montana was 7.8 percent, compared to 8.3 percent nationally, but 17.5 percent for post-9/11 veterans, compared to 12.1 percent nationally.

“Veterans that sacrificed for our nation should have the same opportunities as everyone else when it comes to starting or expanding farms,” Tester said in a release. He is a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. “This bill will level the playing field, strengthen Montana’s economy and make sure we honor our commitments to Montana’s veterans and their families.”