WASHINGTON — One congressman's plans to honor veteran-friendly businesses helped keep the federal government from shutting down last week.
California Republican Rep. Paul Cook's "HIRE Vets Act" was signed into law over the weekend, after lawmakers made it the legislative vehicle for their omnibus budget plan to fund government operations through September. The $1.16 trillion spending plan includes a $15 billion boost in defense spending for the final five months of the budget year.
To move that spending plan quickly through Congress, Republican leaders amended Cook's relatively non-controversial veterans bill to include the budget language. It's a common maneuver on Capitol Hill, and one that helped push stalled Cook's measure to the president's desk.
"I'm thrilled this bill has been signed into law," Cook said in a statement. "This is a big win for veterans and the companies who are truly making an effort to attract and hire more veterans."
The original bill — which was included in the new budget omnibus — would give the Department of Labor two years to establish a new awards program to recognize business that hire and retain veterans.
Department officials will develop "HIRE Vets" medallions for use on products and in corporate promotional materials, linked to specific veterans employment goals. Different tiers of awards would be set up for large and small businesses.
Companies will be recognized with the honor once a year, in the autumn. The first batch of honorees would come in 2020.
According to the legislation, funding for the program would come through fees charged to applicants seeking the recognition, with specific costs to be worked out by department staffers.
"We’ll be able to see which companies truly live up to the employment promises they make to veterans," Cook said. "Veterans who serve this country honorably shouldn’t struggle to find employment, and this bill creates an innovative system to encourage and recognize employers who make veterans a priority in their hiring practices."
A report on progress establishing the new award is due to Congress in spring 2019.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.