Did Ling Ling Chang seize the Veterans Issue from Josh Newman in SD-29?


State Rep Ling Ling Chang, a candidate for State Senate in SD-29, addressed an issue in a column in Sunday’s OC Register that most Republicans avoid — helping homeless veterans.  By doing so, she’s effectively placed her opponent — first time Democratic candidate Josh Newman — on the defensive on an issue he should own — helping Veterans.

Chang writes:

Sadly, many veterans still live on the streets without a place to call home. For some of them, serving overseas has left them scarred with physical wounds or mental illnesses like PTSD or depression, which affect their ability to find a full-time job. No serviceman or woman who has made sacrifices to protect our great nation should have to worry about where their next meal will come from or where they will find shelter. They deserve better.

California is home to the largest population of homeless veterans. Almost 25 percent of all homeless veterans in the United States live in our state. In Orange County alone, there are over 500 homeless veterans without a place to call home. This is a tragedy.

Recently, a package of bills known as the “No Place Like Home” bills were introduced in the Legislature to help the homeless and mentally ill. These measures will help end homelessness and improve treatment for the mentally ill in California. However, it was very important to me that any proposal to reduce the homeless population include a component to help veterans. Assembly Republicans and I secured $10 million for homeless veterans as part of the No Place Like Home proposal. This $10 million will be used to create transitional housing shelters for homeless veterans. Transitional and supportive housing combines a place to live with the treatment and aid they need to get back on their feet.

With so many special interests in Sacramento fighting for a piece of the taxpayer pie, it is important to have champions for our veterans. And this was just a small part of my ongoing efforts to make veterans a priority. For those who need help finding a home, I wrote Assembly Bill 388 to make sure that funds being used from the Veterans Housing and Homeless Prevention Fund were being used effectively. This legislation requires local governments and nonprofits to complete reports on how funds for veteran housing are spent. Funds meant to be spent on housing for low-income and homeless veterans should go to them, not to pay for consultants or administrative costs. This bill was passed and signed into law by the governor.

Among the many other pro-veteran bills I have co-authored are proposals to assist our men and women who served in uniform to receive unemployment benefits, and to help those suffering from substance abuse.

To help veterans who are returning home from service and looking for employment outside of the military, I co-authored legislation to give veterans a better chance of being hired. Assembly Bill 1383 would give veterans a preference to be hired for any job. Helping veterans get a job after their military career will help them afford a place to live and stay off the street.

Readers here know that Newman runs a non-profit geared towards helping Vets find jobs.  In an email exchange with me last May, Newman explained how it worked:

“….My focus in working toward effective solutions to the larger problems around veteran unemployment has evolved somewhat, away from my initial intention of creating an organization and platform of my own that could serve as a direct broker between vets and employers; and more toward systemic and collaborative approaches that offer promise.  Hence my deepening involvement with initiatives outside my non-profit.  Even so, I continue to work directly with vets, and at any given time I have between 10 and 20 vets with whom I am working in some way, either on things like their resumes or connecting them to appropriate opportunities or informational interviews….I’d say the annual total this year will net out at around 80 vets served and/or placed.  Certainly a worthy effort, but not a solution to the larger problem either. 

Homeless Vets: that’s not really the focus of my organization’s efforts, I do make referrals to agencies for whom that is their primary focus.  And I frequently get referred vets who may be homeless or recently re-housed but who just need some coaching or other support to gain traction on work.  Homelessness, veteran or otherwise, is a very complicated thing, and I would be the first to admit that many of the issues needing addressing are beyond my expertise.

Since finishing second in the June 7 primary, Newman’s campaign has been pretty quiet.  No announcements.  No notices of fundraisers.  His Facebook page has some cute animal videos and a June 7 “thank you” post.  But now Newman is going to have to seize his greatest asset from Chang — Veterans issues — with a campaign that remains under funded and seemingly on vacation since the Primary.