WASHINGTON — In an effort to cut the unemployment rate among veterans, President Barack Obama is calling for a new conservation program that would put veterans to work rebuilding trails, roads and levees on public lands.
The president also will seek more grant money for programs that allow local communities to hire more police officers and firefighters.
“Let’s get more cops on the beat, let’s get more rangers in the parks, let’s get more firefighters on call, and in the process, we’re going to put more veterans back to work,” Obama said Friday at a fire station in Arlington, Va., that was one of the first to respond to the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.
“They’ve already risked their lives defending America. They should have the opportunity to rebuild America,” he said.
The efforts, which Obama first announced in his State of the Union address last week, are particularly geared to those veterans who served after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a group experiencing an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent, versus 8.7 percent for non-veterans, according to the government’s jobs report for January.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said the Civilian Conservation Corps that operated during the 1930s could be viewed as a model for what the administration will try to accomplish through its “Veterans Jobs Corps.” He said that the administration will propose spending $1 billion over five years that would be used to put an estimated 20,000 veterans to work restoring habitat and eradicati ng invasive species, among other activities.
“When one looks back at the legacy of the Civilian Conservation Corps, we take great comfort that those who take on these kinds of activities will leave a lasting legacy for the United States,” Salazar said.
The backdrop of presidential politics is also playing a role in the Obama administration’s new efforts. Several states that will be heavily contested in November have a significant military presence. Veterans will be evaluating specific ways the next White House administration intends to help them.
Communities that hire veterans to work as police and firefighters will be given preference in the grants competition. Obama will also seek to increase spending for the grants programs. He is proposing an additional $4 billion for the Community Oriented Policing Services program, or COPS. He will propose an additional $1 billion for the firefighter grants.
The administration will also propose a training program designed to help veterans wanting to start their own small businesses.
With GOP lawmakers stressing the need to cut government spending, it remains to be seen how far the proposals will go in a deeply divided Congress. Many conservatives have in the past voted to cut spending for the COPS program, while Obama is calling for a major expansion.