The push for military spouses to secure meaningful employment and childcare earned a big boost in the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
[Related: Here's What Military Families Need to Know about the NDAA]
The $716 billion defense spending bill includes a number of important provisions to assist military spouses, who struggle with unemployment at rates four times higher than the national average. Unlike civilians, military spouses face unique challenges as they regularly move for a servicemember's career and might have to take long leaves of absence to care for children during training exercises or deployments.
Eryn Wagnon, associate director for MOAA's government relations, said the government has been successful in tackling veteran unemployment rates, which has set a template for spouse unemployment rates.
“The issue of spouse employment has also gained ground, not just because of lawmakers, but because of the spouses themselves,” she said. “Military spouses are their own best advocate, and they have been instrumental in demonstrating what the barriers to employment are and how they make great employees.”
Among the provisions benefiting spouses in the NDAA, efforts to increase employment and expand access to childcare services are the most desirable, Wagnon said.
Congress has made veteran employment and resources a priority, but Wagnon lauds their efforts to also look after spouses. Creating opportunities for spouses alleviates burdens on troops who might worry about finances or childcare while in the field for training or on a deployment.
“Congress is recognizing military souse and family issues are directly related to military readiness,” Wagnon said. “If the family is negatively impacted by their military lifestyle, it can affect servicemember performance on the line and influence whether a servicemember wants to stay in the military. … We hear many stories of servicemembers leaving the military because their spouse can't have a successful career, barriers to support services or educational opportunities affecting their children.”
The FY 2019 NDAA includes provisions from two bills introduced by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.): the Military Spouse Employment Act and Jobs and the Childcare for Military Families Act.
Provisions included aim to help spouses:
- Get hired: The hiring process for federal jobs will be modified so that federal agencies can expedite hiring for all military spouses. Military spouses have said the most desirable jobs are near military installations and often federal positions. Currently, expedite hiring is available only to spouses of deceased and disabled servicemembers and those who have recently moved and appear in their spouse's orders for permanent change of station.
- Run a small business on post: Lawmakers have recognized spouses face obstacles to starting small business on installations. DoD is encouraged to submit a plan on how to facilitate military spouse entrepreneurship on military installations.
- Gain more access to affordable childcare: Lawmakers have found a lack of access to affordable childcare drives up unemployment for military spouses. This provision will require DoD to implement a program increasing the number of cleared childcare providers by assessing whether each duty station is allotted the correct number of childcare subsidies for the number of families requesting them.
- Get involved in public-private partnership program: Lawmakers know many businesses and community organizations surrounding military installations want to support military families, but there are too many bureaucratic barriers. This provision directs DoD to make the process to enter into formal agreements with these organizations and companies clearer for installation commanders.