Legislature increases funding for veterans programOver the past few weeks, members of the Senate and House of Representatives have been working together in conference committee to create a budget for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Military Affairs.
By: Dist. 22 Sen. Jim Vickerman, DFL-Tracy, Worthington Daily Globe
Over the past few weeks, members of the Senate and House of Representatives have been working together in conference committee to create a budget for the departments of Veterans Affairs and Military Affairs. With the state facing a $6.4 billion budget shortfall, this was no easy task. As the Senate committee chairman, I believe the committee worked well together and produced some positive results.
I think this is a good bill. We always want to do more, but facing this shortfall, we had to do our part in balancing the budget.
Everywhere you look, people are being affected by the struggling economy, and the state is no different. We had to reduce our overall spending, but we were able to do this without hurting our veterans.
The Legislature’s Agriculture and Veterans Affairs omnibus funding and policy bill recently received overwhelming bipartisan support in both the Senate and House on its final passage. The bill is highlighted by an increase in funding to Minnesota’s veterans homes and a program to provide aid to homeless veterans. The increases are made possible by the Legislature’s ability to utilize funding currently going unused by the GI Bill Program (tuition aid for veterans). After the federal government recently increased funding for veteran tuition aid, the need for similar state aid was diminished. The appropriation for the GI Bill Program will be changed to an “open appropriation,” meaning funding will continue to be available, but money that goes unused will go towards other veteran programs.
The Legislature’s bill will increase funding to veterans homes by $4.3 million over the next two years. The funding will go towards repair and betterment, food costs, pharmaceuticals costs, fuel and utilities, and helping the homes maximize the use of Medicare Part D.
Another highlight of the bill is an increase in funding of $500,000 to the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans (MACV). The MACV organization works to provide assistance throughout Minnesota to positively motivate veterans and their families who are homeless or experiencing other life crises. Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans accomplishes its mission by providing services directly or in collaboration with other service agencies.
The policy provisions in the bill will also benefit veterans.
One provision will ensure that veterans, who meet minimum qualifications, receive interviews for state job openings. Language was also crafted this session to establish a preference for veteran-owned small business in bidding on state contracts.
The Department of Military Affairs will also see an increase under this legislation. The Department will receive $3 million for the National Guard to cover a projected shortfall in their budget. This is an increase in the Department’s base funding of 7.7 percent.