Why There's Still Plenty to Do on Spouse Licensing


You may have heard that New York has passed legislation (although it still awaits the governor's signature) giving military spouses some concessions with professional licensing. In short, if you move into the state and have a professional license that is included in their plan, you'll be funneled into an expedited process and lower fees. Score.

The White House spent the July 4 weekend celebrating the fact that New York makes 50 -- thanks to that state's action, all 50 states have moved on the spouse licensing issue. That's a pretty big deal, and we're really excited about it, too. All of this work is good. All of it is important and all of it is appreciated.

But there's plenty of work left to be done -- which the White House only alluded to in some of what they put out on the subject.

"This is a big step forward, but we’re not done yet.  We’re going to keep working with states to make licensing simpler for more jobs and reach more qualified workers," the President said July 2 in his weekly radio address.

Because I've been watching this issue closely for six years, I know a lot about it and I've heard many, many stories of the struggles surrounding it. I've seen you move through it. I hear you all when you comment and email me with your ongoing problems. Take, for example, this spouse who emailed me recently.

"I am a military spouse living in Texas.  I was a fully licensed, tenured teacher in Louisiana prior to my husband's Army relocation to Fort Bliss.  I applied to receive my Texas teaching credentials and received a limited, one year certificate. I must take and pass three licensure examinations to receive a full Texas license.

These tests are for new teachers to the profession and are costly.  I have not been able to secure employment since moving to Texas even after applying for many teaching positions.  Financially, we are in a very tedious position and I have lost hope of continuing a career that is a part of who I am as a person.

I have managed to become a substitute, but make minimum wage when doing so.  I basically make one-fifth of my former daily wage.  Of course with it being summer, I have no source of income."

While many spouses can apply for unemployment when facing a PCS, this one could not -- Louisiana is one of the few states that does not offer unemployment benefits to those who must leave their jobs because of military orders.

The White House celebrated real victories that were achieved through a combination of the First Lady and Jill Biden flexing their political muscles and long, hard work by the Defense Department and advocacy organizations (not, as the White House suggested, just the work of Joining Forces -- this 2012 DoD report makes it clear that this effort was underway long before).

But we have to remember that we are not finished -- not by a long shot. For example, many states exclude teachers and lawyers from their license flexibility rules. That report labeled "teaching" as one of the top three professions military spouses hold, and attorney licensing is one of the most expensive and time consuming of all career fields. Sure, the licensing rules help some people, but often they don't help the two professions that arguably have the biggest need.

There's a chance that you're reading this thinking "we should be grateful for the concessions that have been made -- stop complaining." And you're right, we should. But I want to be very clear: this is not complaining, this is honesty. If we're going to stand here and congratulate ourselvess and state governments for taking action, we need to be able to say that it's the right action, that it's appropriate action, that it's enough action.

The battle is not over.

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