They fought for our country, now we should be giving back to them — that is the viewpoint of one area lawmaker who is co-sponsoring legislation that would give a percentage of state contracts to veteran-owned businesses.
State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-Long Island) made the announcement at the John F. Prince VFW Post No. 6478 in Bellerose, last Thursday, where they were joined by service members and community leaders who showed their support.
“We ask these men and women to fight for us,” Avella said. “Many do not make it back. Some do not come back the same way as when they left, and yet we can’t help them get a job in this country. There is something seriously wrong with the way we conduct business.”
The legislation would require 3 percent of all state contracts to go to businesses owned by veterans, including those who were disabled in combat. While a similar law, introduced by Israel, has existed on the federal level since 2004, the same is not true on the state level.
In order to qualify, a business would have to be 51 percent veteran-owned and have annual gross sales of less than $75 million. On the federal level, the law has resulted in $15 billion worth of economic opportunities for service members, Israel said.
The state bill was introduced by Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers), and Avella is one of the cosponsors. It didn’t pass during the last session, but Avella said it would be priority for this year. A companion bill is being introduced in the Assembly by Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove).
There are approximately 1.2 million veterans in New York State, Avella said, and the unemployment rate among service members is usually five points higher than it is for the rest of the population.
“There is no higher priority for either one of us than to make sure we fulfill our obligations to the men and women who protect freedom for this country,” Israel said. “I spend most of my time in Congress working on veterans’ issues.”
Israel said he helped secure nearly $6 million in back pay for veterans in his congressional district. “When a veteran walks into my office, the red carpet is unfurled for them,” Israel said, adding, “These are people who fight for us in the cities, fight for us in the mountains, fight for us in deserts, fight for us on the high seas, and then they have to come back and stand on unemployment lines. It just doesn’t make sense.”
Evel Morales, an Army veteran and the junior vice commander at the post, expressed his support for the bill noting how difficult it is for service members to find employment.
“Veterans have a lot of talent that they can offer to the state,” Morales said. “When I was in Iraq, I remember I had one soldier, 22 years old, he had 30 men under his command ... This guy was in charge of so much and then he comes back and he could run a corporation, he could run a business. He just needs a chance.”
Jerry Wind, president of the Bellerose-Hillside Civic Association, did not serve in the military only because he did not pass the physical to be sent to Vietnam, but nonetheless he is active in veterans’ issues and has family who have been service members.
“This bill is very important,” Wind said, “and I thank, from the bottom of my heart, the veterans in New York State and Senator Avella for pushing this bill, and the support from Congressman Israel.”