By Amanda Huffman
Military spouses face unique barriers to employment, such as frequent moves and deployments, contributing to a 22 percent unemployment rate. The National Military Spouse Network (NMSN) has been spearheading a grassroots effort to bring forward legislation to help. The Military Spouse Hiring Act is the closest it has ever been to being passed, and you can help!
The Military Spouse Hiring Act is a set of two identical bills in the US House and Senate, known as HR2974/S3909, that would expand the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to include military spouses. The WOTC is a federal tax credit available to employers who invest in American job seekers who have consistently faced barriers to employment.
Both bills have been introduced to Congress with bipartisan support. Representative Don Beyer [D-VA-8] and Senator Tim Kaine [D-VA] sponsored the bills, and there are more than 280 cosponsors in the House and 53 cosponsors in the Senate. As Congress enters what is known as the “lame duck” season, where new leaders have been elected but are not yet in office, work is still being done to try to push this legislation through Congress and onto the President’s desk by the end of the year.
Rep. Beyer and Sen. Kaine are exploring ways to pass the bills this year, either by putting them on the consent calendar or adding the WOTC change as an amendment to another bill that must pass this year, such as appropriations. Rep. Beyer said HR2974 is his number one priority, and he will do his best to get it over the finish line. If the bills do not pass, the process will start over with a new Congress, where there is no guarantee of the same support.
Military members make up a small percentage of the population and many members of Congress don’t understand the impact of military service on military families. We have an opportunity to use our military life stories to help Congress understand how their support of legislation like the Military Spouse Hiring Act will have an immediate positive impact.
Four easy things you can do today:
- Call members of Congress to thank them for their co-sponsorship of the Military Spouse Hiring Act. Check to see co-sponsors here: HR2974/S3909.
- Call the staff and offices of Rep. Beyer and Sen. Kaine to thank them for their leadership on this important issue.
- Call the offices of the US senators and US representatives from your state to tell them how important these bills are and ask for their support to pass the bills before the end of the current legislative session. Tell them your personal story to help them understand the challenges military spouses face. In this time of great political division, it is especially important to remind political leaders that this issue is bipartisan.
- Invite your representatives to come to your base so they can hear from military spouses directly about their experiences.
Your voice is so important to keep the grassroots momentum going! Four years ago, 24 military spouses visited congressional offices on Capitol Hill to share the challenges and offer suggestions about what legislators could do to help. Today, the Military Spouse Hiring Act, HR2974/S3909, is so close to being passed!
As NMSN’s president, Sue Hoppin, says: “If we ever hope to make significant and lasting change for military spouses on the issue of employment, we need to reinvigorate the same community effort that successfully turned the tide for veteran employment a decade ago.”
Legislation is only part of NMSN’s advocacy. In The 2022 NMSN White Paper, they highlight the work they have done and continue to do. Their main focus has been gathering data. While there have been many military spouse programs implemented, the data to see if these metrics are working is not there.
For instance, this year the Department of Defense (DoD) announced that for the first time, all military spouses would be able to participate in its biennial Active Duty Spouse Survey. However, the questions were shortened, with only four multiple choice questions and one open ended question. While it is great that all military spouses were included, the lack of information and data collected will continue to limit progress without a baseline assessment.
Another area of advocacy that NMSN is focused on is military spouse under-employment. If spouses are unable to secure employment or forced to take a pay decrease at a new location due to a move, it exacerbates already-tough financial challenges faced by military families both during and after military service. Spouses face being stationed in locations where work options are unavailable, or the timing of a move negatively impacts their eligibility for 401(k)s or Individual Retirement Accounts.
According to Sue, “Unfortunately, too often announcements touting successful military spouse employment initiatives can also be unintentionally misleading. In many instances, those employment successes combine veteran and military spouse hiring initiatives and reflect a single point in time. Even if a spouse successfully gains employment at one assignment, they may find themselves in an entirely different labor market just 18 months later. A military spouse’s inability to retain employment through a PCS transition also means greater challenges qualifying for employment-related benefits like career development, advancement and vesting of employer contributions to retirement funds.”
- The DoD should create a standard set of metrics to evaluate programs for their impact.
- Congress should study the inability of military spouses to benefit from financial vesting programs due to military service.
- The Domestic Employee Teleworking Overseas (DETO) program should be expanded to ensure that military spouses who secure employment with a federal department or agency are able to maintain their employment during assignments overseas.
- An SBA Small Business Concern classification should be created specifically for military spouses.
- Congress should consider authorizing the development of a military spouse experience map through the lens of employment.
NMSN will continue to advocate for all military spouses no matter what stage of their employment journey they are in. “While the NMSN may focus primarily on military spouse professionals, we know that NMSN’s work also supports the military spouse who needs a job just to make ends meet during a transition. NMSN promotes inclusive collaboration on military spouse employment by advocating for all military spouses no matter where they are in their employment journey,” Sue says.
To explore the challenges military spouses face and the lack of data for military spouse unemployment in more depth, read Sue’s letter. To learn more about NMSN, head to their website or connect with Sue. Watch for the new 2023 White Paper on January 25, 2023.
Photo: At a December 2022 roundtable, National Military Spouse Network President Sue Hoppin talked with Congressman Don Beyer and Professor Janet Breslin Smith about the Military Spouse Hiring Act. The discussion was presented by USAA, with Mike Kelly attending.