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Opening Statement of Hon. Marlin A. Stutzman, Chairman, Subcommittee on Economic Opportunity

Good morning.  We are here today to examine the FY 2012 budget for the Department of Labor’s Veterans Employment and Training Service better known in the veterans’ community as VETS.

It is no secret that veterans are facing difficult times finding and retaining good-paying jobs.  Unemployment rates for veterans in some age groups significantly exceed the rates for non-veterans of the same age and that is just not right.  I am confident the distinguished Ranking Member shares that view and I intend to work with Mr. Braley in a bipartisan manner to improve employment opportunities for veterans.

Interestingly, job vacancies posted online rose 438,000 in January to nearly 4.3 million according to The Conference Board so there are literally millions of jobs looking for qualified workers.  That begs me to ask whether veterans have the right skills for today’s job market, and the answer to that may be the key to reducing veteran unemployment rates.

The media focuses on the 15.2% unemployment rate among veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan, but in terms of sheer numbers, older veterans are facing rates of unemployment that often exceeds their non-veteran peers.

For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics latest data shows that 725,000 or 63% of the 1,135,000 unemployed vets are 35-64 yrs old.  Unfortunately, those veterans have little or no access to veterans’ education/training/retraining programs.  They are also the group that tends to have the highest financial obligations like mortgages and paying for their children’s education.

We are all aware of the financial crisis facing this nation which means we must redouble our efforts to make best use of the funds available.  That means, what is the best use of the $261million the President has requested for the Veterans Employment and Training Service in Fiscal Year 2012?  How do we increase the skills unemployed veterans can offer to the job market and then what is the best way to match veteran qualified job seekers with the right job?

The VETS’ budget submission is refreshingly frank in addressing the state grant program.  I quote, “The program clearly was not fulfilling its mandated role” end quote, and I am eager to hear how VETS proposes to fix their largest program.  Having said that, I must admit that I was disappointed to see that the goal for average salary of veterans placed by the DVOPS and LVERs staff is only $16, 535 while the national poverty level for a family of four is about $21,000.  Mr. Secretary, I believe your goal must exceed the poverty level because an eight dollar an hour job is just not good enough and I hope you will explain to the Subcommittee why your goal is so low.

I would also recognize President Obama’s initiative to increase the number of veterans employed by the Federal government.  Today, veterans are approximately 25% of the Federal workforce but unfortunately, outside of VA and DoD, most agencies fall far short of employing a significant number of veterans.  I wish the President every success in his program and I am sure each of the Members here will call upon the entire Federal government to place greater emphasis on hiring veterans.  But I would also note that the private sector offers far more employment opportunities as evidenced by the Confidence Board’s data.

Finally, I welcome today’s witnesses and I yield to the distinguished Ranking Member, Mr. Braley after which we will hear from the first panel.