Supporting Veterans in Small Business

On June 20, 2017, the NYC Council held a hearing in consideration of the needs of veterans in small business. Below is the testimony of our Founding Director:


My name is Kristen Rouse. I served for more than 20 years of combined service in the United States Army, Army Reserve, and the New York National Guard, which included three tours of duty in Afghanistan. I am here today to testify on behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, a member-supported, grassroots policy advocacy and empowerment organization serving veterans, servicemembers, and their families across the New York City metropolitan area. I am also the president and director of the NYC Veterans Alliance, a corporation registered in New York State.

I applaud this joint hearing for considering the needs of veteran entrepreneurs and business owners in New York City. Veteran business owners have not received significant public attention from NYC government since 2014, when SBS and MOVA jointly produced a report concluding that there should be no focused program for veteran-owned businesses in city contracting. The report surveyed only a small a pool of veteran-owned businesses and estimated NYC’s number of veteran-owned businesses. As many of us noted at the time, the findings of that report were stunningly low, even going so far as to contradict the much higher number of veteran entrepreneurs that had been reported in 2007 U.S. Census figures for NYC. Yet this report is what has stood as a bar to making veteran-owned businesses competitive for city contracts, forcing veterans who seek lucrative government contracts to seek eligibility for existing federal and state contracting set-asides in the continued absence of city set-asides for veteran businesses. In 2015, the policy paper produced by my organization pointed out the flaws in the city’s 2014 report, and recommended that NYC set a goal of 3% for contracts with service-disabled veterans—the mandated minimum for federal contracting—and work toward reaching that goal as it currently does with M/WBEs. This has not, however, been addressed, and I appreciate being able to discuss this again before you today.

SBS has offered a training program for veteran business-owners, but it is offered during daytime work hours, making it challenging for currently employed veterans to attend. Additionally, outreach materials—which are currently difficult to find by navigating DVS and SBS websites—simply do not inspire the confidence of veterans that the course would be worth their while. Veterans have turned to nonprofit or academic ventures like Bunker Labs and NYU Tandon’s programs for veterans to launch and incubate their business ideas. And all the while, veterans seeking information about the city’s oldest entrepreneurial venture for veterans—street vending—still must navigate murky regulatory guidance between different city and state agencies just to determine how to attain a license, let alone operate successfully.

All of this is to say that any workforce development plan or online business tools offered by NYC government must include wording and materials specific to veterans and their needs, to include eligibility for state and federal contracting set-asides. Any small business survey must seek to capture data on both disabled and non-disabled veterans that was not adequately surveyed in 2014 in order to better meet the needs of our large and growing community of entrepreneurs.

Furthermore, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage all members of the NYC Council to support passage of Intro. 1259, which the NYC Council has the opportunity to pass this week. We greatly appreciate proposed resolutions stating in words that veterans are to be honored and appreciated, but I urge all Council members to support Intro. 1259, which will not simply offer words, but meaningfully include veterans and military members in our city’s human rights law, giving them local recourse to address the ongoing discrimination in housing and employment that they currently face. I urge in particular Council Members Maisel and Cabrera, members of the Veterans Committee, to sign on as co-sponsors of 1259. I urge Council Member Eugene, who is currently sponsoring a resolution to honor veterans, to also sign on as a co-sponsor of 1259. I further urge all members of the Committee on Small Business to sign on as co-sponsors as well. Passage of Intro. 1259 will have a tangible, meaningful impact on the lives of veterans, military members, and their families. Please support its passage without delay.           

On behalf of the NYC Veterans Alliance, I thank you for the opportunity to testify today. Pending your questions, this concludes my testimony.