Tester, Baucus tackle veterans unemployment as first bill of new Congress

Measures build on Senators' VOW to Hire Heroes Act

(Washington, D.C.) – Montana’s Senators Jon Tester and Max Baucus today introduced the Veterans Employment Transition Act or “VETS Act” of 2013. Baucus announced this would be his first bill of the new Congress during a speech to the Montana Legislature in January, where he “declared war” on veterans unemployment.

Tester and Baucus have a long history of working together to tackle veterans unemployment, and today’s bill will:
1. Increase opportunities for veterans to transfer military skills into the civilian workforce
2. Support small businesses owned by disabled veterans
3. Make it easier for businesses to get tax credits for hiring recently discharged veterans
4. Hold government agencies accountable for delivering results for veterans

“Veterans fought hard for this country and earned our respect and support,” Tester said. “Preparing veterans to use their military skills in civilian jobs honors their service. It is important that we support employers who hire our heroes and ensure that our most dedicated Americans find good-paying jobs.”

“When our men and women in uniform put their lives on hold to protect our nation, they deserve to come home to good-paying jobs and a nation that honors their sacrifice. This is a real jobs bill for Montana because we have more veterans per capita than nearly anywhere else in the country,” said Baucus. “I’m calling on Congress and the President to join me in declaring war on veterans unemployment and work together to get this done.”

According to the Joint Economic Committee, unemployment for Montana veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan fell from 20.3 percent in 2010 to 17.5 percent in 2011. Still, 1,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were unemployed in Montana in 2011, and 234,000 nationwide. Montana has the second highest rate of veterans per capita in the nation.

Tester and Baucus’s VOW to Hire Heroes Act passed Congress unanimously in late 2011. The bill combined several popular proposals from both sides of the aisle to help put more veterans back to work.

Four Cornerstones of The VETs Act of 2013

1. Helps veterans transfer military skills into civilian workforce:
In 2012, Baucus secured a pilot program within Department of Defense to enable enlisted members of the military to obtain civilian equivalent credentialing or licensing for skills received while undergoing training for military jobs. That way, veterans can transfer their military skills into jobs in the civilian workforce right away without having to jump through hoops to get proper licenses.

The program currently focuses on civilian credentialing or licensing for some military occupational specialties including EMTs, mechanics, and truck drivers. This bill will expand the program to include air traffic controllers, military police, and fire fighters.

2. Boosts businesses for companies owned by disabled veterans:
In 1999, Congress established a government-wide goal that at least three percent of all prime contracts and subcontracts be awarded to small businesses owned by veterans who were disabled during their service. However, federal agencies have consistently fallen short in meeting that goal. For example, the Department of Defense, the Department with the largest amount of contracting dollars by far, has never met the three percent goal, and awarded less than half that to disabled veteran-owned businesses in fiscal year 2009.

The bill pressures agencies to meet the goal by requiring public disclosure of the goal and the performance toward meeting that goal of every federal department and prime contractor. The bill requires the Small Businesses Administration to maintain the information on a website to be updated at least every three months and report the progress of each department to Congress annually. The Small Business Administration will then nominate contractors with outstanding progress for Congressional recognition. Montana currently has 67 companies classified as service-disabled veteran owned small businesses – 152 percent of the national rate.

Baucus originally introduced this provision as a stand-alone bill in 2011.

3. Makes the tax credit for hiring veterans work even better for Montana businesses:
As chairman of the Senate tax-writing committee, Baucus led the creation of the tax credit for businesses who hire recently discharged veterans in 2009, and Tester joined his efforts to make sure credits for hiring veterans were expanded in 2011 and 2012. This bill makes the credit work even better by eliminating tax bureaucracy so more businesses can qualify.

Right now, businesses have to go through their state employment agency to certify that a veteran qualifies, which delays them from taking advantage of the tax credit right away. This bill would allow businesses to sidestep the red tape for recently discharged veterans by simply using a veterans military discharge papers to qualify and start getting the credit right away.

Businesses get a tax credit up to $2,400 per veteran, including national guard members, discharged within five years of the date they were hired.

4. Holds government agencies accountable to deliver results for unemployed veterans:
As Baucus pointed out in his speech to the Montana legislature, there are six different programs tasked with tackling veteran unemployment between the Departments of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Labor. And yet, veteran unemployment is still unacceptably high. This bill instructs the departments to coordinate their efforts on employment related initiatives, report their performance goals to Congress, and ensure that employment data is available to the public on the internet.

This provision is based off of findings and recommendations in a Government Accountably Office report Tester and Baucus requested in 2011 to help better address veteran unemployment and make sure taxpayers are getting the best bang for their buck from veterans programs. That report was completed in early January and is available: HERE.