NORWALK, Conn. -- The Norwalk Daily Voice accepts signed letters to the editor. Send letters to email@example.com.
To The Editor:
For over one hundred years, the Soldiers', Sailors' and Marines' Fund has been helping Connecticut veterans in need. Long maintained by the state of Connecticut, the $68 million fund utilizes the interest earned on its investments, along with periodic contributions from the state, to provide assistance to veterans in need.
This is particularly important as 6,000 to 8,000 veterans return to Connecticut from the wars abroad in Afghanistan and Iraq. The fund offers rental or mortgage assistance to former service members and their families, as well as help with medical bills, utilities, funeral expenses, food, clothing and other necessities. It is essential that the fund continue to operate smoothly.
Earlier this year, Gov. Dannel Malloy made a proposal that would have placed the fund in the permanent care of the American Legion—an organization that, along with the state, has been jointly responsible for the fund’s administration for almost a century. There have been attempts to "raid" the fund in the past, which I vehemently opposed. Such an action would be an appalling affront to our veterans, and is something I could never support.
The American Legion and the veterans’ community as a whole had supported the governor's plan. Placing the fund in the Legion’s care would have placed its $68 million beyond the reach of a future legislature looking for a quick source of cash.
On the last day of our legislative session on June 5, in a 500-page budget bill with 391 sections, including a specific provision to fund an additional $1.3 million to Norwalk's public schools, this became the new way the fund would operate:
Public Act 13-247 :
• The American Legion would administer the fund (not the state agency that currently provides this service).
• The interest will be distributed directly to the American Legion to pay for grants to veterans and their families.
• Allows for up to $300,000 of the interest disbursements to be used by the American Legion for administration of the fund.
• The State Treasurer would remain as the trustee of the fund corpus and will continue to invest the fund, in consultation with the American Legion, in order to generate interest accumulations.
• Requirement for a biennial audit that would provide information to legislators about the fund’s investment performance as well as the uses of the interest accumulations (i.e., grants to veterans, administration, etc.). The elements of that report are described in this section of the bill.
Since the new law passed on June 5, the state American Legion has raised a concern, which wasn't expressed until recently, that the new law put a statutory cap of $300,000 per year on administrative costs, which equates to 15 percent of the total interest earned in fiscal year 2013. My understanding is that the Legion doesn't feel this is adequate and they are seeking more flexibility.
The Soldiers', Sailors' and Marines' Fund continues to provide much needed aid to thousands of Connecticut veterans and their families every year. The Fund must continue to do so in the years ahead. Our veterans deserve nothing less.
State Senator Bob Duff
25th Senatorial District, Democrat, of Norwalk and part of Darien