Thursday, June 16, 2016

Senate Republicans Strengthen Bill to Support Veterans, Servicemembers and Their Families

Veterans HOME Act Extends Commitment to Our Veterans

Senate Republicans Strengthen Bill to Support Veterans, Servicemembers and Their Families Veterans HOME Act Extends Commitment to Our Veterans BOSTON- Senate Republicans today unanimously supported a Senate bill, An Act Relative to Housing, Operations, Military Service, and Enrichment, known as the Massachusetts HOME Act, which expands on the commitment the Senate has made to our veterans, servicemembers and their families. The HOME Act contains several provisions to boost housing options for veterans, expand property tax exemptions, create new employment and educational opportunities, and other provisions. Massachusetts has the nation’s strongest benefits program for veterans.

“This bill earned bi-partisan support because it provides important benefits to veterans and their families in terms of employment, housing, property tax relief, education, and other services,” said Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester). “Massachusetts leads the nation in our assistance programs offered to veterans, and rightly so because they deserve a support system which reflects their vital service to America and sacrifices on our behalf.” Members of the Senate Republican Caucus successfully championed several amendments to the bill.

Those provisions added veteran protections and benefits to: • Establish a Veterans Relief Fund – Creates an option to allow cities and towns that choose to create a fund to assist local veterans and their spouses with their food, transportation, heat and oil expenses. Donations would go directly to support local veterans, • Provide Paid Veterans Day and Memorial Day for veterans- Requires that employees who are veterans be granted paid leave if requested, • Promote Veteran Property Tax Abatements- Creates a study on the feasibility and merits of a sliding scale property tax abatement for veterans and spouses, based upon a percentage of disability, • Expand Access to Higher Education for Veterans- Allows veterans to pay in-state college tuition rates immediately upon establishing residency in the state, • Preserve Local Oversight- Prioritizes local authority of and control over of the soldiers’ homes.

To honor the service of veterans and their families, the bill provides a property tax exemption for the surviving spouse of any soldier, sailor, and member of the National Guard or veteran who, during active duty service, suffered an injury or illness which was the proximate cause of death. The bill also gives veterans who have a 100% disability rating for service connected blindness a property tax exemption.

As adopted, the HOME Act contains several provisions to boost housing options for veterans such as extending preference in admission for scattered site housing units where no low-income family housing was developed. The bill also requires housing authorities to exclude amounts of disability compensation paid by the federal government for the purpose of computing rent of a disabled veteran. In addition, the bill gives eligible veterans a preference in housing for the elderly and person with liabilities in all communities, not only the community in which the veteran resides.

Other provisions of this Act include: • The expansion of the Public Service Scholarship to children of any military or service person missing in action and children of prisoners of war; • Allows employees of the Commonwealth who are members of the armed forces reserves and are ordered to service for more than 30 consecutive to be paid the regular base salary reduced by the amount received as base pay for military service. It also preserves the seniority or accrued leave time; • Allows cities and towns to appoint a veterans agent for 3 year terms instead of the current 1 year term; • Establishes the Office of Veterans Homes and Housing within the Department of Veterans Services to oversee the Soldiers Home in Chelsea and in Holyoke; • Creates a post-deployment commission to study ways to improve services to veterans who have been deployed overseas. • Adds veteran status as a protected class under the statute prohibiting discrimination in employment.

The bill will be signed by Governor Baker after it is reconciled with the House of Representatives.