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Guest Column: State Sen. Tom O'Mara
"Truly a time to focus on American heroism"
ALBANY, Feb. 17 -- So much of what we associate with the
two American heroes who take
We focus on the unparalleled legacies of Washington and Lincoln as commanders in chief, which means we’re always reminded, at the same time, about the place of the American soldier throughout history. And that’s a reminder which never fails to serve us well.
President Washington himself famously said, “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive veterans of early wars were treated and appreciated by our nation.”
It’s this expression of appreciation to our veterans, this respect and their standing in the nation’s collective eye that has been polished to a truly deserving shine throughout the years since 9/11, as the ongoing war against terror has sent troops off to war in Iraq and Afghanistan. We celebrate this heroism, like never before, in countless symbolic and often ceremonial ways. But we also honor it at the more practical level of governmental policies, programs and services.
Take, for example, developments over the past few weeks as part of a longstanding effort to better assist New York’s disabled veterans.
Last year’s state budget created a new “Hire-A-Vet” tax credit that took effect at the start of this year and allows businesses to become eligible for a valuable state tax credit after they’ve employed a post-9/11 veteran for one year. Hire-A-Vet was an important achievement, one that I was proud to help sponsor and fight for, and we believe it will help make a difference for returning veterans coming home to a nation and a state where it’s tough to find a job.
Approximately 88,000 New Yorkers have served or continue to serve in Afghanistan or Iraq. The numbers make it clear: federal Bureau of Labor statistics from 2012 show that unemployment reached a staggering 20 percent for veterans under the age of 30 who had recently returned home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, statistics show that a significant number of post-9/11 veterans report service-connected disabilities.
Now we have a real opportunity to build on last year’s Hire-A-Vet success and, this year, enact what the Senate calls “Jobs for Heroes” to more fully assist our service-disabled veteran-owned small businesses. It would mark another investment in the future of veterans and serve to help honor their service and sacrifice in a concrete way.
One in seven veterans is self-employed or a small business owner. New York has the fourth-highest number of veteran-owned businesses – trailing only California, Texas and Florida. The Senate has proposed and acted on Jobs for Heroes for several years. This year’s legislation, which I also co-sponsor and strongly support, would establish at least a five-percent set-aside in state contracts for service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses. The legislation is modeled after the successful federal contract set-aside program. Similar programs have been created in more than 40 other states.
As I noted, the Senate has repeatedly approved the legislation, but it hasn’t been acted on by the Assembly leadership, despite growing bipartisan support.
This year, however, the politics are shaping up differently.
First, the concept was endorsed by Governor Andrew Cuomo in his State of the State message in January. Noting the high unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans, the governor pledged to take steps “towards establishing up to a 5 percent goal in the awarding of state contracts to service-disabled, veteran-owned small businesses.”
That State of the State pledge has now been followed by a more specific – and more important -- gubernatorial action. Just last week, on the very day the Senate held a Jobs for Heroes Lobby Day to urge more widespread support for the action, the governor unveiled a specific legislative proposal that closely mirrors the Senate’s measure.
It means that this February we’re not only celebrating the history of American heroism as part of our annual President’s Day observances, but here in New York State we’ve moved a step closer, once again, to taking bipartisan action to honor and salute this modern-day heroism in a practical, difference-making way for many of today’s veterans.
In other words, it’s some good news at the right time.
Photo in text: State Senator Tom O'Mara
Schuyler County Officials
Top row (from left): Dennis Fagan, Jim Howell, Michael Lausell, Van Harp
Bottom row: Tom Gifford, Barbara Halpin, Phil Barnes, Stewart Field.
Dennis Fagan, Tyrone 607-292-3687
Thomas M. Gifford, 535-9517
Barbara Halpin, 594-3683
Phil Barnes, Watkins Glen, 481-0482
Stewart Field, Watkins Glen, 535-2335
County Clerk: Linda Compton, 535-8133
Sheriff: William Yessman, 535-8222
Undersheriff: Breck Spaulding, 535-8222
County Treasurer: Gary Whyman, 535-8181
District Attorney: Joseph Fazzary, 535-8383
State, Federal Officials for Schuyler County
Sen. Charles E. Schumer
United States Senate
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand
United States Senate
State Senator Tom O'Mara -- Chemung, Schuyler, Steuben, Yates, western Tompkins, Enfield, Ithaca (Town and City), Newfield, Ulysses(Trumansburg)
Room 812, Legislative Office Building
Assemblyman Phil Palmesano--
Steuben, Schuyler, Yates
P.O. Box 365
Odessa, New York 14869