Military spouse unemployment issue gets more attention with bipartisan bill

Lawmakers introduced the second bill in a month to help reduce military spouse unemployment, an issue that has been gaining traction in recent years.

The newest bill, introduced Feb. 27, takes aim at a problem many military families face: childcare. The bill would set up a tax-free fund spending account for military families so they can reserve pre-tax dollars from their paychecks to pay for out-of-pocket childcare expenses.

The account works similarly to a health savings fund.

The Blue Star Families Military Lifestyle Survey notes that two-thirds of military families said they could not reliably find the childcare they needed.

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Fifty six percent of families said the Defense Department does not provide adequate support to help children cope with the unique challenges associated with military life.

“Again and again we hear from these spouses that the lack of childcare puts a big burden in their way in terms of finding employment. Childcare is so expensive that the childcare is going to cost more than your salary then you are not going to work, you’re not going to maintain your career, your profession during that time,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), one of the sponsors of the bill said during a Feb. 6 call with reporters.

The bill, which is also sponsored by Sens. John Boozeman (R-Ark.) and Jon Tester (D-Mont.) also expands the work opportunity tax credit to incentivize businesses to hire military spouses. The credit works similarly to the way businesses can get credit for hiring veterans.

While there is no true scientific study, multiple surveys suggest military spouse unemployment is between 15 percent and 30 percent, well below the national average of just over 4 percent.

Military spouse unemployment is caused by spouses frequently moving with their significant others in the military who have to change stations, the lack of childcare and the obstacles of relicensing for certain jobs in new states.

“We think the reason for that is so many spouses had just given up looking for work. Unemployment means actively looking for work in the last four weeks. We think that the amount of attention Blue Star Families and our partners have been able to give to this topic has emboldened more military spouses to think that perhaps they could work and probably led them to seek it,” Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families said in November 2017.

Kaine introduced another bill to address military spouse unemployment earlier this month.

A companion bill in the House was introduced on Feb. 27 by Reps. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.) and Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.).

Those bills modify the federal hiring authority so federal agencies can hire military spouses faster.

“In a lot of areas, military bases and around the country and around the world, some of the best jobs right where the bases are, are federal jobs. Federal agencies that are co-located or close to military bases. We want to create expedited hiring authority for military spouses, much like we do with veterans to enable them to get these good jobs more quickly,” Kaine said.

The bills instruct DoD to examine ways to increase the number of cleared childcare providers while still adhering to safety standards. The bill also requires DoD to assess whether each duty station is allotted the right number of childcare subsidies for the number of families requesting them.

Kaine’s bill also opens up some transition services to military spouses. The bill opens the Military One Source resource available to spouses for one year.

Military One Source is a 24/7 resource for education, personal finances and other employment assistance.

The bill opens up transition assistance programs to military spouses as well. The programs offer classes on financial planning and family readiness.

Kaine said he does want to work with the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee to get his bill folded into the 2019 defense authorization bill.

“This should not be an issue that should be partisan at all. After being 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.

That mindset was bolstered by Stefanik’s remarks.

“As the proud home of Fort Drum and the Kesselring Site, our district is home to many military spouses who make enormous sacrifices on behalf of our nation,” Stefanik said. “Military spouses serve too, and it’s critical that we work to ensure these brave men and women have the jobs they need and deserve.”