Good morning and welcome. I am pleased to see you all here today. I would especially like to welcome our participants who have agreed to discuss veteran small business issues. Your thoughts and opinions on these issues are important to us.
This is an official roundtable of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Although it is less formal and is meant to be a discussion, we do take your comments very seriously. The roundtable is recorded and the information made an official part of the record to help inform the actions of the Committee.
There are currently 23 and a half million veterans in America today, including more than 4.4 million veterans that have left the military since 1990. As service members transition from serving the nation to reentering the civilian workforce, the economic benefits and opportunities provided by the federal government will become ever more critical, particularly in the field of entrepreneurship and business ownership. As the Chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, I am serious about addressing the problems affecting veterans and reservists who wish to start a small business or are already engaged in small business.
There is a lot happening here in Congress to address the economic security of our veterans and reservists. Just last week, the Veteran Affairs Committee held a hearing on S. 22, the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, better known as the GI Bill. Now Congress is trying to pass the bill, so it can become law.
I am also working on legislation to help prevent service members from having their homes foreclosed -- temporarily extending the period a lender must wait before starting foreclosure proceedings from three months to nine months after a serviceperson returns from service, and suspending increases in mortgage interest rates in excess of 6 percent for one year after a serviceperson ends service. I was pleased to see my provisions included in the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008.
I am also working to push legislation that Senator Smith and I introduced last year. The Active Duty Military Tax Relief Act of 2007 included a provision which would provide a tax credit to small businesses who pay their employees who are called up for active duty a salary differential. Last year, Senators Grassley and Baucus introduced the Defenders of Freedom Act which included a similar provision based on our provision. Different versions of this bill have passed the House and the Senate and hopefully, there will be final action on this bill in the near future.
When I became Chairman of this Committee last year, the first thing I did was call a hearing on veteran small business issues, focusing on the shortcomings of the federal government in addressing the needs of veterans, as well as some possible solutions.
At that hearing, I made a promise to you to put together legislation to address the concerns that we heard. I am proud to say that working with Ranking Member Senator Snowe, we were able to pass that legislation through Congress, and the Military Reservist and Veteran Small Business Reauthorization and Opportunity Act of 2008 was signed into law on February 14th.
This could not have happened without the hard work and support of many of you veterans here today, and I thank you for that.
Unfortunately, there are still many challenges facing our veterans and reservists. The roundtable today will begin by looking at what issues veterans and reservists face when seeking to find civilian employment, including starting a small business. Jason Klerman from Abt Associates will be telling us about a survey commissioned by the Veterans Administration, released last September, which showed that 18 percent of veterans were unemployed one to three years after leaving the military. In addition, of veterans finding employment, 25 percent were earning less than $22,000. Another survey of veterans released by military.com in November found that 81 percent of returning military veterans didn't feel fully prepared to enter the work force, and 61 percent of employers say they do not understand how the qualifications gained in military service translate to the civilian world.
I am disturbed by statistics such as these, and I look forward to learning more about what is behind them and what can be done to combat them.
The second part of today’s discussion will focus on possible solutions to these problems.
We have with us today federal agencies, veteran service organizations and veteran and reservist small business owners. I am confident that among this group, we will have plenty of ideas about how to make things better.
Lastly, the roundtable will focus on veteran small business centers and how they are serving veterans. Coreena Conley will be speaking about the work of her center in California, while Pat Heavey will tell us about his work in St. Louis. We also have three clients from the centers who can talk about the impact of the centers on their lives. Our Committee has heard from many veterans about the importance of veteran small business centers, but there are some who argue that similar services are provided by Small Business Development Centers and other organizations. I look forward to a productive and helpful discussion here today about the role of centers. I know that there is no clear consensus in the veteran community about what a veteran small business program should look like so it is my hope that this roundtable can help us develop a consensus on how best to meet the needs of our veterans.