The Senate Veteran Affairs and Military Installations Committee on Wednesday unanimously passed a bill that would prevent the Texas Veterans Commission — which faces a proposed 20 percent budget cut — from dipping into a fund it is barred from using for administrative purposes.
Sens. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, and Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, filed SB1739, which would protect the commission's veterans assistance fund, which is currently restricted to awarding grants to nonprofits that give veterans access to rehabilitation programs, psychiatric counseling, rent assistance and health care for injuries sustained during combat.
"We've seen so many of these funds be hijacked for other purposes," Van de Putte said. "It protects the fund for veterans assistance making it clear that the proceeds from that fund can only be used to address veterans' needs, rather than be used as a mechanism that will fund [employees] at TVC."
But a proposal from state Sen. Steve Ogden, B-Bryan, would let the commission use $2.8 million from the fund to combat proposed budget reductions that could force layoffs of up to 22 employees, including 15 counselors — a loss that could cut benefits to 55,000 veterans across the state.
"I meant no harm," Ogden said. "We were trying to make sure that our Veterans Commission was adequately funded." Ogden added that the commission's administrative costs are relatively low, at $2 million this biennium.
The fund is also already beleaguered as it is, with 86 applications for over $27 million requested in the last grant cycle, compared to the over $2 million paid out over the last grant cycle to nine organizations.
Thomas Palladino, the commission's executive director, told the committee today the agency could technically use the funds, as current laws provides a loophole. "We could do that, and we would get 100 percent funding," Palladino said. "But it would take away from the fund, and [its] purpose is not to fund any state agency, including my own."
Roy Grona, of Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars, said the cuts send the wrong message to veterans. “Throw away all the figures and just do the right thing,” he said.