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Petition Looks to Rip Down Home Business Barriers on Base

A coalition of Army spouse small business owners are collecting electronic signatures on a petition asking top Army officials to standardize the approval process for running a home-based business on stateside Army bases -- and to say "yes" more than they say "no."

Here at SpouseBuzz and on Military.com we've discussed the on base home business problem extensively. Like this coalition found when doing research for this article that ran today on Huffington Post, we know there is no standardized process for determining which spouse owned small business can operate on base and which can't. Every base has its own set of standards about the types of businesses that can operate there. They can be confusing. And don't even get us started on OCONUS rules

And each applicant must get the go-ahead from both MWR and the base Exchange. If the applying business conflicts in any way with any business that MWR or the Exchange might currently have or want to have in the future, the application will likely be denied. And, as this small business owner found, just because you have the OK now doesn't mean it will last. Get too successful and MWR might swoop in and shut you down so that they can make money, she found.

Meanwhile, the coalition points out, the Defense Department spends a lot of time talking about the importance of military spouse employment. 

"The lengthy wait time and subsequent denied requests destroy businesses carefully grown by military spouses who have already sacrificed many of their own career goals and income making opportunities in the wake of the challenges of military life," the article says. "And, to add insult to injury, these same spouses are being told by military-affiliated organizations and government endorsed nonprofits that serve military families to strive for gainful employment, yet the policies in place remain one of the biggest obstacles for military spouse business owners."

Through their petition, which you can see here, the authors -- Janine Boldrin, Erica McMannes and Lauren Rothlisberger --  are asking the Army to skip doing more studies and instead come up with a real solution for the problem. 

"Let’s help solve this problem. NO more studies. NO more reports. NO more reasons to avoid putting forward solid, actionable solutions that can only be hindered by unnecessary over-complication of this issue," the petition says. 

Once upon a time, in January of last year, the Military Community and Family Policy office at the DoD started a working group to tackle this very problem. But Rosemary Williams, the beloved undersecretary who headed that office, left for the Department of Veterans Affairs and the group appears to have unofficially disbanded. We hear they haven't met in months.

Williams, who was a political appointee and left the VA at the end of the Obama administration, still believes fixing this problem should be a priority. Spouse entrepreneurship solves a variety of problems, including employment and quality of life. Supporting it is good for everyone, she says. 

"If we're going to do more with less these are the kinds of things that have to change," she told me recently. "If we're going to stay at war, it has to change."

She also noted that the community built around a home-based business isn't just about income, it's about mental health.

"The truth is, many of these MilSpouse entrepreneurs are not just helping the families. They are also helpings each other through peer leadership and in some cases, wellness," she said. "Here's a great example: A spouse who is certified in physical fitness runs a boot camp on base. If a spouse doesn't show up, the others will notice and calls will be made. If there is trouble at home, the spouses will see it. ... Isolation is the enemy of mental wellness. We know this." 

The on-base business problem is far from just an issue in the Army. The coalition started with that service, however, because they are Army spouses and the Army is what they know. Also, they told me, they believe it's best to focus on one service at a time.

If you want to sign the online petition, you can visit the coalition's site at MusterUp.co.

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