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Vets' panel chairman not sold on new jobs bill

Sep. 21, 2012 - 01:42PM   |   Last Updated: Sep. 21, 2012 - 01:42PM  |  
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The House Veterans' Affairs Committee chairman committed Thursday to taking a closer look at President Obama's Veterans Job Corps Act but warned that he views it as an expensive and bureaucratic way to provide only temporary employment.

The plan, which has been blocked in the Senate by Republicans, would create jobs in three ways: It would provide grants to pay for temporary jobs in conservation-related work on federal lands and in maintenance of national veterans cemeteries; it would order federal agencies to hire up to 10,000 more veterans; and it would provide hiring preference for veterans in first-responder jobs in law enforcement and firefighting.

Overall, the job corps bill is expected to create 20,000 jobs, many of them temporary, which would put only a small dent in the estimated total of 700,000 jobless veterans.

While the Senate version of the bill, S 3457, was blocked on a procedural point of order raised by Republicans over its $1 billion price tag, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., introduced a House version of the bill on Sept. 20.

HR 6455, was referred to Miller's veterans' affairs committee for consideration, but to pass, it also would have to make it through at least five other committees because of its broad sweep.

Nothing will happen soon, as Congress is taking an election break and will not return to work until November, leaving Brown's bill and the Senate measure, sponsored by Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., in limbo.

Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., who as veterans' committee chairman would play a big role in the fate of Brown's bill, promised to work with Brown, but noted that the cost per job under the bill is about $50,000 — compared to just $16,000 per job under another initiative, the Veterans Retraining Assistance Program, which was passed by Congress last year.

"We did not start a whole new bureaucracy in order to do what we needed" to do with VRAP, said Miller, the chief sponsor of that program, which has already filled 45,000 openings and has room for an additional 54,000 in a second phase of enrollment that will begin Oct. 1.

The Veterans' Job Corps Act also is tailored to help only post-9/11 veterans, not those from previous generations. Miller said he would prefer a broader focus.

"I commit to you to work … towards trying to find jobs for those unemployed veterans out there," Miller told Brown. "Not only those who are returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, but, certainly, those 35 to 60-year-old individuals who are finding themselves [with] the need to retrain."

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