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LORAIN, Ohio (WJW) — A new spending mechanism for county veterans agencies in Ohio allows officials to respond quicker when veterans are in need.

The bipartisan Ohio Senate Bill 287, which was signed into law earlier this year and took effect in September, allows county veterans service commissions to use county-held credit cards for “temporary and necessary assistance care” for veterans. It received unanimous support in both legislative chambers when it passed in June.

The bill’s simple rule amendment helps county officials meet the need quicker, instead of having to send proposed expenses up for financial approval, said Jacob Smith, director of Lorain County’s Veterans Service Commission, who worked with county Commissioner David Moore and the bill’s sponsor state Sen. Nathan Manning of North Ridgeville, R-13th, to get it in front of the Legislature.

“Our veterans have provided invaluable service to our country, and we want to make sure they are taken care of with basic needs later in life,” Manning is quoted in a news release. “This legislation will aid Veteran Service Commissions and other county veteran service offices accomplish that goal in a timely and responsible manner.”

Similar emergency assistance is already available for county children services agencies — for things like housing needs — but “veterans didn’t have that,” said Moore.

“Sometimes they have people who are working but they’re just living in their vans. They don’t make enough to get ahead of the game,” Moore said.

Smith gave one hypothetical use: a veteran who’s set to start a new job the next day, but needs a uniform or a specific pair of work boots that the veteran can’t immediately afford. Credit charges could also be put toward things like job or skills training, or emergency housing.

Smith, who testified in favor of the bill before a Senate committee in March, told lawmakers the Lorain commission recently had to rely on donations from an outside nonprofit to put one homeless veteran up in a hotel.

The man worked full-time on the second shift at a county business. His wife had just recently died from a long-term illness. His home was foreclosed upon soon after, and the man was unable to live with relatives. He found an apartment, but it wouldn’t become available for another month, Smith testified.

“After working an eight-hour shift, the veteran, now homeless, was forced to pack his belongings into his car at approximately 12:00 midnight. Overnight temperatures were around 30 degrees. He spent the night in his employer’s parking lot with the engine running periodically to stay warm,” he testified.

“We found this to be unacceptable.”

County-held cards’ credit limits are set by commissioners — typically somewhere between $2,500 and $5,000, Moore said. The new expenses will still be reimbursed through veterans assistance funding already allocated to veterans service commissions through inside millage. In Lorain County, that was about $4.4 million in 2022, Smith said.

But much of that funding is left on the table each year and returned to the county’s general fund, Smith said. On average, about $1.5 million unspent from the commission’s $4.4 million in tax revenue and $3.8 million operating budget has been returned each year between 2012 and 2021 — so the rule change also improves efficiency, he said.

“If they’re not spending it, that means we’re not taking care of our veterans,” Moore said. “Veterans always feel that someone else needs that money more than they do. Jacob has a very difficult job identifying the ones in need.

“They feel like they don’t need it; everyone else should take it. They don’t really access the benefits they deserve to get.”

The Lorain County Honor Fund

Lorain County commissioners at an Oct. 19 meeting also approved a $300,000 evergreen fund to support veterans organizations and pay for upkeep at veterans parks and memorials and veterans burials, for which county commissioners boards are responsible under state statute.

Commissioner Matt Lundy said the county has received “a flurry of requests” for assistance with local memorials.

“This will help tremendously with that,” he said on Oct. 19.

Like the new emergency credit charges, the new fund draws from the veterans service commissions’ unspent funding each year. Funds left over each year would be set aside for the Honor Fund, replenishing it to a maximum of $300,000.

“We’re not creating a new revenue stream. We’re not creating new taxes,” Moore said on Oct. 19. “This is a tax [the commission] already receives. … [Smith] can’t spend all that he gets.”

Smith said 10% of that funding would go toward workforce development efforts for veterans. Smith, who’s worked with veterans for more than a decade, said military spouses who don’t usually get service benefits for education are sometimes in need of job or skills training.

“We certainly encourage every opportunity to hire a veteran,” Lundy said. “They show up, they’re dependable, they get things done — just like they did when they got their marching orders in the service.”

To request assistance with emergency expenses or learn more about the Lorain County Honor Fund, contact the Veterans Service Commission at 440-284-4625 or through its website.