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Recruitment bonus program considered to boost Minnesota National Guard enlistment

Finding people to serve in the armed forces is a growing problem across the country and Minnesota is not immune from what the Minnesota National Guard adjutant general called an approaching “manpower crisis.”

Speaking Monday to the House Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee, Brig. Gen. Chris Blomquist said willingness to serve is declining across the nation and recruiting is suffering as a result.

“This matters because the (armed) services are lowering their standards to keep their numbers up and still failing to meet their goals,” he said while providing an update from the Department of Military Affairs.

Following that briefing, the committee heard several bills including HF3454. It would allow creation of a bonus program to provide payments to members who refer someone who enlists or is commissioned into the Minnesota National Guard. The bill was laid over for further consideration.

“This is one additional tool we can put … in the toolbox of our Minnesota National Guard to make sure we do hit those enlistment goals that we’re aiming for,” said Rep. Matt Norris (DFL-Blaine), the bill sponsor.

Don Kerr, the department’s executive director, said the guard hasn’t decided whether to move forward with the bonus program, but the bill would provide the authority to do so.

He said a number of states have implemented similar programs and found them to provide a valuable benefit to recruitment efforts.

The bonuses would be paid for with funds that have already been appropriated, Kerr said.

Rep. Bjorn Olson (R-Fairmont) said a similar program was tried at the federal level but suspended after several years because of fraud allegations. He cautioned that additional oversight may be needed if Minnesota begins a program of its own.

“This is something that, whereas it could be a really awesome tool to help you build the house, it could also result in the house burning up,” Olson said.

Kerr agreed the federal effort, known as the Guard Recruiting Assistance Program, relied on a third-party contractor to operate it, didn’t work out. But he said the department would be open to having reporting requirements or other safeguards added to the bill to help ensure thorough oversight should the program become a reality.

“We have some additional work to do on this bill,” said Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids), the committee chair.

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