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Panel hears governor’s military and vets budget bill

Ensuring all Minnesota veterans have a home is a top priority of the nearly $350 million bill heard by the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee Monday.

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids), HF1937 would appropriate $286.55 million to the Department of Veterans Affairs and $58.79 million to the Department of Military Affairs from the General Fund during the upcoming fiscal biennium.

The bill, laid over for further consideration, reflects the budgets Gov. Tim Walz proposed for the departments in January, Newton said. More than half of the funding would go to operating veterans homes and programs meant to end homelessness among the state’s veterans.

Rep. Mark Wiens (R-Lake Elmo) asked for clarification of what exactly ending homelessness would look like from their perspective.

Andrew Garvais, Department of Veterans Affairs director of veterans programs and memorial affairs, said the goal is to achieve “functional zero,” which would not mean veteran homelessness never happens but that when it does it is rare, brief and doesn’t reoccur.

“Functional zero is where our systems in place have achieved that,” Garvais said. “We’ve made a lot of improvements over the years in those systems and the package of requests that we have here is really to help those hardest to house, those with the most extreme barriers.”

Wiens said he hopes that goal is achieved.

“I think this is going to be a good news story for us,” he said.

Some of the largest appropriations the Department of Veterans Affairs would receive for the biennium include:

  • $188.7 million to the veterans homes revenue account, including $20 million for operational funding of veterans homes currently under construction in Bemidji, Montevideo and Preston and are due to open later this year;
  • $22 million for service bonuses to post-9/11 veterans and Gold Star families;
  • $11.2 million for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans to help veterans and their families who are homeless or in danger of experiencing homelessness;
  • $8.56 million for veterans cemeteries, including $4.5 million in fiscal year 2024 to build and equip a new cemetery in Redwood Falls; and
  • $5.6 million for the veterans homelessness initiative.

Among the largest appropriations the Department of Military Affairs would receive during the biennium are:

  • $26 million for enlistment incentives, which often take the form of tuition reimbursements;
  • $20 million to maintain training facilities; and
  • $10.4 million for general support that would include money for a new holistic health and fitness initiative in the Minnesota National Guard, and a Cyber Coordination Cell that allows the guard to better work with other state and federal agencies to plan for and respond to cyber incidents or initiatives.

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