Kaine: Military spouse employment a bipartisan issue

Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) thinks Congress can help lower the 21 percent military spouse unemployment rate.

Military spouses who want to work suffer from an unemployment rate five times greater than the national average and they are looking for help from the government to solve the problem.

In an exclusive interview with Federal News Radio, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Congress shouldn’t have any trouble passing some simple provisions to help military spouses find and hold jobs despite the partisan bickering that has held up legislation in recent years.

“This is not an issue that should be partisan at all. Having been on the Armed Services Committee for five years now, I know the issues where there tends to be partisan difference and I also know the issues where there’s not,” Kaine said

Kaine met with Blue Star Families, a military family advocacy organization, Defense Department family readiness officials and private companies for a military spouse employment summit on Oct. 23.

After hearing the plight of men and women who must move frequently with their military spouse to the detriment of their careers, Kaine said he’d like to hold a hearing in his Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee to flesh out some ideas to help the spouses with employment through legislation.

One big issue Kaine said he’d like to address is license reciprocity. When spouses work in credentialed fields like therapy, teaching or real estate they often must get new licenses in the state they live in. Kaine and other member of Congress want to make it easier for military spouses to move to a new state without having to get a new license with different standards.

The Personnel Subcommittee has already heard some testimony on the reciprocity issue.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. James Cody called for a national baseline on professional licenses for military spouses in order to ease the burden on them during a hearing in February.

“There [needs to be] at least some type of baseline foundation where everybody fundamentally agrees that in this transition time we’re going to accept things as long as they need some minimum level,” Cody said.

The 2016 Blue Stars Family Lifestyle Survey stated 63 percent of military spouses encountered licensing challenges due to geographic relocation.

Congress is trying to ease the fiscal burden of relicensing for spouses who move in the 2018 defense authorization bill.

The bill would provide up to $500 to families for spouses to get licensed in their occupation after a station change.

“If a spouse works in South Carolina and moves to Virginia and incurs up to $500 in relicensing or certification costs, the committee would authorize up to $500 to be reimbursed for that,” said a House Armed Services Committee aide.

But military spouses face far more challenges in finding and keeping employment than just licensing.

“We haven’t specifically worked on military spouse employment issues before. I heard that from the employers, I thought about it in terms of my own focus on issues in the committees,” Kaine said. “Getting an interview and having an employer look at you and say ‘Wow you’re really qualified, but boy you’re probably going to have to move in a year and a half maybe I should hire someone who is going to be here longer.”

Some spouses reported moving eight times in 15 years or even more often.

According to the Blue Star Family Survey, 51 percent of families identified spouse underemployment or unemployment as a top obstacle to financial security. Less than half of military families with a civilian spouse earn two incomes.

The survey estimates military spousal unemployment or underemployment costs the economy about $1 billion.

Military spouses during the summit noted that available employment resources were not widely advertised and little known among families.

Additionally, childcare is a big factor in military spouse employment. Child development centers on bases often have long wait times and are short staffed.

The Blue Star Families Survey stated 83 percent of families reported childcare impacted their ability to pursue employment or education, 66 percent were not able to find childcare that fits their current situation and 38 percent spent $500 or more a month on childcare.

Blue Star Families CEO Kathy Roth-Douquet said during the summit that the military system is designed to “get what it gets” in terms of spousal employment.

The system is designed for an older age of single income families in a time when that simply not a reality, especially in military families.

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