President Barack Obama signs the Veterans Opportunity to Work to Hire Heroes Act of 2011, during a Nov. 21 ceremony. (Official White House Photo)
President Barack Obama is urging companies to take advantage of a new law giving various tax credits to businesses that hire long-term unemployed and disabled veterans as soon as possible.
“Today, because Democrats and Republicans came together, I’m proud to sign those proposals into law,” Obama said, before a bill-signing ceremony Monday at the White House. “And I urge every business owner out there who’s hiring to hire a veteran right away.”
Entitled the VOW to Hire Heroes Act, the new law gives up to a $5,600 credit for hiring veterans who have been unemployed for more than six months, and a $2,400 credit for those who have been out of work for more than four weeks.
It also increases the tax credit to $9,600 for businesses that hire disabled veterans who have been unemployed for more than six months, as well as enhances job training and counseling programs.
In October, the national unemployment rate among veterans hovered at 12 percent, and in Tennessee, it has ranged between 18 and 20 percent for the past year, according to the U.S. Department of Labor and Workforce Development.
Several organizations that represent veterans praised Congress and the Obama administration after the bill was signed into law, including the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
“This is an historic day for veterans,” said Paul Rieckhoff, executive director for Veterans of America, who founded the organization seven years ago.
Rieckhoff founded the organization to advocate on behalf of fellow veterans after becoming concerned with the way the war in Iraq was being portrayed in the media and the overall plight of newly returned veterans, according to the group’s website.
“It is the first jobs legislation of any kind to be passed all year,” Rieckhoff said. “It’s practical, bipartisan and long overdue. This smart and comprehensive bill contains provisions for which (we) have been advocating for, for nearly two years.”
The tax credits were originally included in Obama’s jobs bill. But because of partisan gridlock over other provisions included in the bill, Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress agreed to take up the measure separately.
The tax credits passed Congress and were signed into law as part of a larger bill that tightens Medicaid eligibility requirements and repeals a 3 percent withholding tax placed on businesses that have government contracts.
U.S. Rep. Diane Black introduced the measure to close what she described as a loophole that could have allowed some middle-class Americans who earn up to $60,000 a year to qualify for Medicaid benefits and exchange subsidies when the health care bill is fully implemented.
“I am thrilled that the president signed my legislation into law, preventing $13 from being wasted as a part of the health care law,” Black said. “By including my legislation in the veterans job package, we were able to ensure what the president signs today will not add to the deficit, but gives billions of dollars back to the U.S. Treasury (Department).”
Some Democrats in the House initially balked at tightening Medicaid eligibility requirements. However, the proposal received little opposition once it reached the Senate, in large part because both parties strongly supported the veterans tax credit bill.
“Veterans who return home to use and seek work should be able to find it, and I believe these tax credits will spur American businesses to hire our nation’s veterans,” Black said.
It is the first bill that has been proposed by a member of the freshman class in Congress to make its way through the legislative process and to the president’s desk to become law this year.
“In a year marred by crippling partisan gridlock in Washington, D.C., coupled with rising veteran joblessness rates, this bill couldn’t come at a more critical time,” Rieckhoff said. “As Congress stalls on so many other issues, it’s good to see them come together in realizing that one of the smartest investments they can make is supporting the new Greatest Generation.”