November 09, 2017

Luján Introduces Two New Bills to Address Veterans' Needs

Introduced in recognition of Veteran’s Day, new legislation would raise the minimum wage for veterans in school and assist homeless Native veterans

[Washington, DC]– Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) today recognized Veteran’s Day by introducing two bills to address the needs of our nation’s veterans. Luján’s bills would raise the minimum wage for veterans attending school through the GI Bill, and reauthorize a program that provides rental assistance to Native American veterans experiencing homelessness.

“As we gather this weekend in communities large and small to honor those who have served our country, we must remember that the true measure of how we honor our veterans will be determined by how we treat them when they return home,” said Luján. “We must ensure that our veterans have access to the benefits they have been promised, and are equipped to pursue successful careers when their service is complete. The two bills I have introduced will help homeless Native veterans and veterans who are supporting themselves as they attend school following their service.”

The Wage Adjustment for Veterans Enrolled in School (WAVES) Act would make a technical fix to the GI Bill in order to address an issue brought to the Congressman’s attention by a student veteran at Santa Fe community college. Currently, veterans who are attending school full-time or ¾-time are eligible to “earn while you learn” through a Work Study program.  Veterans who are paid minimum wage through this program are paid whatever is higher—the federal minimum wage or the state minimum wage. However, there are 40 cities nationwide that have a higher local minimum wage that is not taken into account. As a result, our veterans are being underpaid in all 40 of these cities.

Currently, student veterans in Santa Fe only make as much as the $7.50 state minimum wage, while all other workers in the city make the $11.09 Santa Fe minimum wage. The legislation would amend the GI Bill to include the city minimum wage in order to ensure parity and support veterans as they further their education. The WAVES Act was introduced with 18 original co-sponsors.

Rep. Luján also introduced legislation with Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA) to provide rental assistance to Native veteran’s currently experiencing homelessness. From the Revolutionary War through today, Native Americans have served in the U.S. military in greater per-capita numbers than any other ethnic group. Unfortunately, Native American veterans are disproportionately affected by homelessness, making up 2.8% of homeless veterans despite the fact that they represent only 0.8% of the entire veteran population. In 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) estimated that 1,087 American Indian and Alaska Native veterans were homeless on any given night. These figures likely underestimate the size of tribal veteran homelessness.

Since 2008, the HUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing (HUD-VASH) program has combined rental assistance for homeless veterans (e.g., Section 8 vouchers) with case management and clinical services provided by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Luján’s legislation would support a tribal specific program within HUD-VASH for homeless Native veterans living on or near tribal lands.