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Utah employers who hire homeless may qualify for tax credit

Published: Thursday, Sept. 3 2015 5:17 a.m. MDT

Jimmy, left, who has a job but lives in his car, fills out a questionnaire with Larry Mullin of the Volunteers of America during the annual Point-In-Time Count of the homeless population in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (LAURA SEITZ, Deseret News) Jimmy, left, who has a job but lives in his car, fills out a questionnaire with Larry Mullin of the Volunteers of America during the annual Point-In-Time Count of the homeless population in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 30, 2014. (LAURA SEITZ, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — A limited number of tax credits would be available for employers who hire homeless people in a bill passed by the Utah House on Monday.

HB140, sponsored by Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, narrowly survived the House, advancing to the Senate on a vote of 38-36.

Employers who hire homeless people could be eligible for tax credits of $2,000. The employee must be continually employed for nine months for the employer to qualify, and the employer must have paid the worker at least $4,000 in wages during that period.

The legislation limits the pool of available tax credits to $100,000 in its inaugural year.

Larry Mullin, an outreach worker for Volunteers of America-Utah, said King’s bill would be a “win-win for the community.”

Not only would a homeless person benefit from employment, the employer that took a chance on them would receive a tax credit, Mullin said. The example of a homeless person transitioning to self-sufficiency would have on other people experiencing homelessness would be significant, he said.

“The snowball effect is really profound for our community,” Mullin said.

Homeless people face considerable obstacles in finding employment. But a job is key to re-establishing control of their lives, Mullin said.

“To provide for yourself, to have that emotional, mental and physical security that you’re not relying on other people, is everything. The clients we deal with are at the other end of handouts. They’re on the other end of long lines. Their lives basically up are to another person, up to a process, to decision-making that goes on. It’s so, so out of their hands," he said.

"To be able to put their lives back in their own control again, you actually see a different person when that happens. You see a person who moves differently. They talk differently. They act differently. They are more confident. There is nothing better for a role model than somebody else who’s been homeless,” Mullin said.

This is the third year King has sponsored the legislation, although this year's version has a lower price tag and is considered a pilot program, he said. Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, is Senate sponsor of the bill.

The bill is patterned after a tax credit program in Florida that provides incentives for hiring people making the transition out of homelessness.

King said his intent is to help people who may have a more difficult time obtaining employment.

Rep. R. Curt Webb, R-Logan, spoke against the bill, noting people in danger of losing their homes, who also may need work, would not receive this consideration.

King said the incentives are for employers, not workers. Also, people who make the transition out of homelessness have a harder time competing in the job market than applicants with established work histories, he said.

"It's leveling the playing field," King said.

"It sounds a lot like a different word for discrimination," Webb said.

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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