Tony Rankins, a formerly homeless, drug-addicted Army veteran, got a standing ovation at the State of the Union after President Trump described how he turned his life around thanks to a construction job at a company using the administration’s ‘Opportunity Zone’ tax breaks targeting poor neighborhoods.
But that’s not true.
Rankins, who indeed moved out of his car and into an apartment since landing a job refurbishing a Nashville hotel two years ago, doesn’t work at a site taking advantage of the breaks and never has done so.
In fact, he started that job four months before the Treasury Department published its final list of neighborhoods eligible for the breaks.
And the hotel where he worked couldn’t benefit even now because it’s an area that didn’t make the cut.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Rankins said he always considered the job that launched him on his new life two years ago to be in an Opportunity Zone and was honored to be invited by the White House to the State of the Union, with a prime seat in the balcony next to Ivanka Trump.
‘After struggling with drug addiction, Tony lost his job, his house and his family. He was homeless. But then Tony found a construction company that invests in Opportunity Zones,’ the president said in his February 4 speech. ‘He is now a top tradesman, drug-free, reunited with his family.’
Days later, Trump doubled down on the Rankins story in a speech on his economic initiatives in Charlotte, North Carolina, and invited him up to say a few words.
‘First of all, I would like to thank the president for signing this bill, because without it I wouldn’t be standing here before you right now,’ Rankins said.
Trump also praised Rankins’ employer, R Investments, for ‘working to help 200 people rise out of homelessness every year by investing in opportunity zones.’
That also pushes the truth.
CEO Travis Steffens said he has hired hundreds of homeless to work at the 400 buildings the company has owned over the years, taking advantage of various tax breaks.
But when it comes to Trump’s Opportunity Zone breaks, he said, the company has only one building tapping the program now, a warehouse in Cincinnati where no one seems to be working, homeless or otherwise.
‘We’ve not really worked there,’ Rankins said, ‘but we’ve stored things over there.’
As it turns out, there is a tax break that Steffens has tapped to employ homeless and others like Rankins.
The Work Opportunity Tax Credit gives as much as $10,000 in tax credits to employers who hire homeless and others with difficulty finding jobs.
That benefit was passed in 1996 when Bill Clinton was president.
Rankins, an ex-felon and veteran who served in Afghanistan and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, has not used the tax breaks.
That hasn’t stopped the Trump administration and its allies from taking credit for Rankins’ turnaround.
Rankins ‘made an incredible comeback thanks to Opportunity Zone investments!’ the White House tweeted.
The official GOP twitter account said the story shows ‘how an opportunity zone in Cincinnati has given him a second chance.’
Ivanka Trump told her Twitter followers: ‘Through grit and perseverance, he secured a job (created in an opportunity zone) and is now thriving.’