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LONGMONT, Colo. (Tribune News Service) — As an Army veteran and case manager with Longmont's Veterans Community Project, Ashley Wallis is well aware of the barriers veterans face when searching for work with a competitive wage in Boulder County.

Veterans make up roughly 10% of the county's homeless population, according to a 2019 point in time survey of Boulder County. A high cost of living, lack of affordable housing and wages that fail to keep up with rent costs contribute to the rate of homelessness in Boulder County and pose more challenges for veterans facing homelessness, Wallis said.

Wallis hopes that legislation proposed in August to renew a federal grant program that provides job training and placement services for veterans will better the situation. If the legislation fails, Wallis worries more Boulder County veterans could face homelessness.

The bipartisan Veterans Job Training Act was proposed last month by U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, who represents Colorado's 2nd District. The legislation seeks to reauthorize the Homeless Veterans Reintegration Program, which is administered by the Department of Labor and expires in 2022.

If Neguse's legislation is approved, the program would be re-authorized through 2025, while also increasing fiscal year funding from $50 million to $75 million.

"The core objective of this program is to help reintegrate veterans into meaningful employment," Neguse said. "The fact that you have a program in place that connects employers directly with veterans who may be homeless and provides those homeless veterans with the various financial resources that they may need to ultimately find a home and find permanent employment, I think it's the confluence of those two core objectives within the program that have made it so successful."

Based in Kansas City, Veterans Community Project was founded by combat veterans to help end veteran homelessness. Its Longmont branch at 1228 Main St. is among the nonprofits in Boulder County working toward that same goal. Through an outreach center veterans can get help with services such as financial counseling, obtaining mental and physical health referrals, assistance in navigating benefits and access to basic resources such as food and hygiene supplies. Longmont's Veterans Community Project is also working to build a village of tiny homes that will help homeless veterans transition into permanent housing.

Wallis said she believes program legislation, such as the Veterans Job Training Act, is necessary to assist veterans with education, vocational rehabilitation and training.

"Some of them might not be eligible for VA benefits to get education training or vocational rehab; they might need to apply for employment opportunities that allow them to earn a living wage in Colorado," Wallis said. "Because, with housing costs so high, our veterans need to be able to earn higher wages to even afford housing in the state where they live. Since the ability to gain employment at higher wages is generally reserved for those with higher degrees or training, pieces of legislation like this will open doors for these veterans. "

To help veterans find employment, Wallis said the nonprofit refers people to Workforce Boulder County. The Colorado Workforce center helps people find jobs, including connecting veterans with other veterans who can help them find work.

Building on the re-authorization of the job training program, Neguse also proposed the Veterans Equitable Taxation of Student Loans Act in late August. The bill would exempt veterans or their families from having to pay tax liability on student loans that were forgiven because of death or total disability. Neguse said the law within the tax code permits those exemptions to be taxed as income.

"That's a grossly unfair and unjust practice," Neguse said. "In my view, we need to ensure that past and future service members who sacrifice themselves for our country won't be saddled with taxes on the benefits that they earned through their sacrifice."

Looking ahead at the future of the proposed legislation, Neguse said the Veterans Job Training Act secured a legislative hearing and will be heard by the Veterans Affairs Committee late this month. In regard to the student loan act, Neguse said the next steps of the process involve obtaining co-sponsors and working to secure a legislative hearing in front of the Committee of Jurisdiction.

(c)2021 the Daily Times-Call (Longmont, Colo.)

Visit the Daily Times-Call (Longmont, Colo.) at www.timescall.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Mike Droney, a homeless veteran, displays a redesigned cardboard sign in downtown Chicago on July 2, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./Chicago Tribune/TNS)
Mike Droney, a homeless veteran, displays a redesigned cardboard sign in downtown Chicago on July 2, 2015. (Michael Noble Jr./Chicago Tribune/TNS) (Michael Noble Jr., Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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