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Interest-free loans for veterans

Published (3/18/2010)
By Nick Busse
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Soldiers returning home from duty could get an interest-free government loan to help start a business, under a bill that was laid over March 16 by a House division.

Sponsored by Rep. Jerry Newton (DFL-Coon Rapids), HF3570 would provide veterans the chance to apply for a loan of up to $20,000 from the Department of Employment and Economic Development. The House Higher Education and Workforce Development Finance and Policy Division held it over for possible inclusion in its omnibus policy bill.

Rather than fund the program with new state spending, the bill would open up an existing DEED revolving fund established in 2008. The fund is currently used to make interest-free loans to help businesses cope when their employees are called to active-duty military service.

The loans would only be made available to veterans who served in active duty at any time on or after Sept. 11, 2001.

John Baker, a lawyer and retired U.S. Marine Corps gunnery sergeant, said the bill would help veterans get a “leg up” as they return home and enter the competitive civilian job market.

“We’ve got our next ‘Greatest Generation’ of veterans coming back from these wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and I think they ought to be our next ‘Greatest Generation’ of business and community leaders,” Baker said.

Jeff Nelson, a DEED loan officer who administers the current loan program, said the fund still has about $280,000 available out of its original $400,000 appropriation — plenty of room to expand. Since the current program’s inception, Nelson said he has received several phone calls from veterans asking if they could qualify for a loan by starting a new business.

A companion, SF2988, sponsored by Sen. Linda Higgins (DFL-Mpls), was amended and recommended to pass March 16 by the Senate Agriculture and Veterans Budget and Policy Division.

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