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Obama unveils $5 billion veterans jobs proposal

By Alex Mooney, CNN White House Producer
February 3, 2012 -- Updated 1800 GMT (0200 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Obama calls jobs for veterans "a top priority"
  • The initiative would involve the Veterans Administration and Interior Department
  • Grant money would be awarded to towns and fire departments that train and hire veterans
  • The proposal's $5 billion price tag makes it a potentially tough sell in Congress

Washington (CNN) -- President Barack Obama unveiled a new $5 billion veterans jobs plan Friday that the administration says will put thousands of men and women who once wore their country's uniform back to work.

The new Veterans Jobs Corps initiative, first mentioned in the president's State of the Union address last week, involves partnerships with the Veterans Administration and the Interior Department, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies.

Under the blueprint, the administration will award $166 million in grant money to communities that show a preference for hiring post-9/11 veterans for new law enforcement positions. In addition, $320 million in grant money will be awarded to various fire departments who pledge to hire and train new veterans.

Money for those grants has already been appropriated by Congress. The president, however, will now seek an additional $4 billion in his upcoming budget to expand both programs. Congress last fall rejected a similar proposal that was part of the president's broader jobs initiative.

The president rolled out the new plan during a speech at an Arlington, Virginia, firehouse.

"This has been a top priority of mine," he declared. "These are Americans that every business should be competing to attract. These are the Americans that we want to keep serving here at home as we rebuild this country. So we're going to do everything we can to make sure that when our troops come home they come home to new jobs and new opportunities and new ways to serve their country."

The president's upcoming budget will also include a $1 billion proposal to create as many as 20,000 new jobs for veterans relating to conservation efforts on America's federal and state public lands.

That initiative, to be overseen by the Department of Interior, would put veterans to work in visitor and tourism-related jobs as well as positions that will assist in general upkeep and maintenance roles throughout the country's public parks and nature preserves.

It is unclear what type of reception the overall proposal will receive on Capitol Hill, particularly among Republicans who have been complaining about rising deficits.

"These are commonsense initiatives to serve our 9/11 veterans who are coming home," Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told reporters on a conference call. "We hope Congress does its job (in approving the funding)."

Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki said Thursday the president will also propose expanding training programs for entrepreneurial veterans seeking to start their own businesses. This program would include online training seminars conducted by the Small Business Administration lasting as long as eight weeks and could serve as many as 10,000 veterans annually, according to administration estimates.

"Our country owes them a debt of gratitude and we must ensure that veterans who come home from Afghanistan and Iraq get the opportunities they deserve," Shinseki said.

The unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is 11.1%, nearly 3 percentage points higher than the country's overall unemployment rate. Among the president's few jobs proposals to clear Congress last year were new tax credits for businesses that hire recent veterans.

CNN's Alan Silverleib contributed to this report

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