A controversial bill that would give tax credits to employers who hire homeless workers roused debate in the Utah House Monday before advancing on a 41 to 33 vote.
Rep. Brian King, D-Salt Lake City, sponsor of HB274, believes the measure would allow Utah to break new ground by giving businesses $500 to $2,000 in annual incentives if they employ homeless individuals for 20 to 40 hours per week for at least six months.
The bill could cost the state’s education fund up to $500,000 per year in tax credits, but King believes that the myriad benefits of getting people back to work will offset those costs over time.
“We wanted to take folks who are currently receiving benefits and flip that, so that they’re contributors,” King said. “If we can do that, we’ve grown the pie.”
To allay the concerns of the Utah Education Association, HB274 was amended to add a sunset provision that requires evaluation of the program after five years.
In order to qualify for the credit, a business must hire someone who has been living in a homeless shelter or transitional housing unit that receives homeless assistance funding.
The business must retain them as employees for at least six months, at 20 hours a week, to receive a $500 credit. For full-time employment over six months, the incentive rises to $1,000, and employers who keep those workers for a full year could tap $2,000 in tax credits.
Some opposed the bill, objecting it would create winners and losers.
“Because of this incentive, instead of hiring the person who is struggling to stay in their home, who may be unemployed at the time, I may be incentivized to hire the homeless person instead,” said Rep. Curt Webb, R-Logan.
However, Rep. Steve Eliason, R-Sandy, voiced a different perspective, supporting King’s bill as a tax decrease that would allow corporations to keep more of their money and even add jobs.
“This is both good business policy, good tax policy and good humanitarian policy,” Eliason said, noting that many in the homeless community “have a lot of strikes against them.”
Such incentives might slow the tide of recidivism, he said. One formerly incarcerated constituent called him numerous times, Eliason said, with the fear that if he cannot find work, he will end up reoffending and going back to “three hots and a cot.”
HB274 now moves to the Senate. King floated a similar measure last year. It passed the House but never came up for discussion in the Senate.