SALT LAKE CITY — Utah employers who hire a homeless person could receive a corporate or individual income tax credit up to $2,000 under a legislative proposal by a state lawmaker.
"This is something that would help people who are in a position (that) they need the most help and provide an incentive for businesses to go out and help them," said Rep. Brian S. King, D-Salt Lake City.
HB274 would provide tax credits ranging from $500 to $2,000, depending upon the number of hours a homeless person works during consecutive six-month periods.
King, who sponsored similar legislation during last year's session, said he views the proposal as "a win-win."
Many employers' hearts are in the right place, but homeless people who have lower educational attainment or poor work histories have not fared well in the more competitive labor pool resulting from job losses during the economic downturn, said Bill Tibbitts, associate director of Crossroads Urban Center, a nonprofit, grassroots organization that advocates for the poor.
A tax credit might help tip hiring decisions among a population that needs employers to give them a second look, he said.
Some prospective employers balk when an applicant's home address is that of an area shelter.
"There's a stigma. If that's your address, people know what that is," Tibbitts said.
The homeless population includes people in a wide array of circumstances, he said. Some people are chronically homeless. Others are experiencing homelessness for the first time after losing their jobs, homes or both.
"There's definitely a segment of the homeless ready to work who would benefit from employers having an incentive to hire them," Tibbitts said.
About 36 percent of families in The Road Home's family shelter program were employed in 2012, according to statistics provided by the nonprofit agency. The Road Home shelters and provides intensive case management to families and individuals, which includes help in finding a job.
Matt Minkevitch, executive director of The Road Home, said HB274 could be a boon to homeless job seekers and potential employers.
There's definitely a segment of the homeless ready to work who would benefit from employers having an incentive to hire them.
–Bill Tibbitts, associate director of Crossroads Urban Center
“Employment is essential in helping people to overcome homelessness. Any measures that are taken to create more employment opportunities for the homeless are beneficial for our population,” Minkevitch said.
Tony Milner, executive director of Family Promise, a nonprofit agency that houses and feeds homeless families through a network of area churches to help them regain self-sufficiency, said employers who are open to hiring people who are homeless, disabled or have criminal records generally do so because they have a personal connection to someone with similar challenges.
"Sometimes employers need that push to do it, to take that chance," Milner said.
King sponsored a similar bill during the 2012 legislative session. It passed in the House, where it had bipartisan support. However, the bill died in the Senate.
Tibbitts said he hopes the bill will fare better this year because "there are employers who would like to do the right thing. I think this would make it easier to do that. Employers have to make money, and hiring someone from this population might mean doing things slightly different than they do normally. Because it might feel slightly risky to do that, it's good to have that incentive do something they may not do otherwise."