Two North Florida Congressmen are spearheading a bipartisan proposal that would fund workforce training for returning veterans.
Representatives John Rutherford, R-FL, and Al Lawson, D-Fl, introduced the Veterans Armed for Success Act, a measure that would create a $10 million in matching grant program for organizations that help veterans enter the private sector like Jacksonville’s Operation New Uniform.
Rutherford discussed details of the legislation Thursday at the Operation New Uniform’s office in Baymeadows, where he praised the nonprofit’s job readiness training program.
“I can’t think of a better way to spend hard tax paying members dollars then to help transition these veterans from their military service when they’ve given so much back to private life,” he said.
Operation New Uniform executive Michele McManamon said businesses don’t always know how to hire veterans properly.
“We’re trying to fix that as an organization, to help organizations understand how to hire our veterans and help them understand some of the things that they’re going through and have gone through. So they don’t have the highest suicide rate,” she said. “So they don’t feel like they’re underemployed and they’re unemployed.”
But they’re unable to meet the demand, McManamon said. For every 10 people that apply and complete the program, 40 are turned away because Operation New Uniform doesn’t have the funding to accommodate more applicants.
While veterans are still unemployed at higher rates than the general public, a recent survey by the Jacksonville-based Wounded Warriors Project shows those surveyed made a 40 percent employment gain between 2014 and 2018. Among the 30,000 surveyed, unemployment dropped from 20 percent in 2014 to 12 percent in 2018.
Rutherford said he’s impressed with how 96 percent of those who go through the program get a job within four months.
“Folks, there’s not another transition program in the country that can top those numbers,” he said. “They’ve impacted over $3 million here in Northeast Florida.”
Rutherford and Lawson introduced a similar bill last year that passed the House, but died in the Senate.
But they’re optimistic the program will go through this time around, said Rutherford.
“We started early enough and we have Senator [Rick] Scott and Senator [Marco] Rubio who, particularly Senator Scott, I know is tremendously concerned about our veterans,” he said. “So I think it’s going to be easy to find some bicameral support.”
Fellow North Florida Representatives Ted Yoho, R-FL, and Mike Waltz (R-FL) are also backing the bill.