Legislation to Tackle Spouse Employment Issues

Two military spouses practice introductions as part of the "Interviewing Basics" session during the Spouse Career Explosion March 13 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force/Sara Vidoni)
Two military spouses practice introductions as part of the "Interviewing Basics" session during the Spouse Career Explosion March 13 at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. (U.S. Air Force/Sara Vidoni)

A new proposal would order the Pentagon to take a hard look at a series of military spouse employment issues and come up with action plans to address them.

The legislation, which Sen. Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat, plans to introduce Tuesday, would also expand a federal military spouse hiring authority and broaden the Pentagon's transition program to include spouses, he announced Friday.

It would also put into law an expansion of Military OneSource resources to troops and families up to a year after leaving the service announced by the Defense Department late last year.

Military spouse unemployment, which is not federally tracked, sits as high as 25 percent, according to some estimates.

Frequent moves and unpredictable military deployment and training schedules make it difficult for spouses to hold jobs long enough to establish long-term, successful careers.

A bevy of Defense Department and non-profit programs look to address the issue by offering scholarships, job and career coaching, and DoD hiring preferences.

Now, Kaine hopes to begin addressing those issues by requiring the DoD to pull together information on some of the key challenges and current programs, according to a fact sheet released by his office Friday morning.

The legislation would also order the Pentagon to develop a plan to allow military spouse small businesses to operate on military bases. Currently, the rules for doing so vary widely between bases, and the exchange services and base recreation offices have the right to refuse permission to operate to any business that might compete with a service they could offer or contract.

The bill could also lead to the expansion of the once successful My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) program. Begun in 2009, the scholarship originally offered up to $6,000 in tuition to spouses in families of all ranks. But the program quickly became a victim of its own popularity, with more than 130,000 spouses applying within a year of its opening.

Officials abruptly closed the program in early 2010, then reopened a significantly scaled-back version eight months later. That version offers up to $4,000 to junior enlisted and junior officer families for some career credentialing or associate degree programs.

A 2015 study found the program to be underutilized, in part because of the cap.

The legislation would order the Pentagon to re-evaluate the program's use, which could set the groundwork for future expansion to more users, officials with Kaine's office said.

Kaine said he anticipates this bill will ultimately be rolled into the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.

-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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