Family Summit Tackles Spouse Employment, Child Care, and More

Family Summit Tackles Spouse Employment, Child Care, and More
Airmen and families from Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., take part in the 2022 Congressional Military Family Summit on Aug. 17. (Photo by Tech Sgt. Heather Clements/Air Force)

The 2022 Congressional Military Family Summit offered servicemembers and their families a chance to share their experiences with legislators, DoD leaders, and others, addressing familiar topics such as military spouse employment and licensure, child care, education, and housing.

 

The Congressional Military Family Caucus, chaired by Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Sanford Bishop, Jr. (D-Ga.), seeks to educate members of Congress and their staff on resources available to military families, and to develop legislation to better support this community. The 14th annual event took place at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash.

 

Among the topics covered at various panels:

 

Special Needs: The Education & Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) panel discussed the need for standardization of services from location to location to ease the burden of families caring for children with special needs. State laws differ regarding the programs, resources, and services provided for these children; if the support received is not sufficient, military families are not aware of, or are not pursuing, recourse.

 

[RELATED: Survey Reveals Major Delays in Special Education Services for Military Children]

 

To date, 34 states have passed legislation providing advanced enrollment for military-connected students. This is vital to ensuring parents of children with special needs do not experience significant delays in filing necessary paperwork to receive services. When moving to a new duty station, it’s important to visit Military OneSource to learn more about the resources and support available at your new location.

 

Food Insecurity: A panelist from the Military Family Advisory Network reported MFAN’s latest survey findings: 1 in 5 military and veteran families face some level of food insecurity, and the enlisted community is affected at a significantly higher rate. The Basic Needs Allowance (BNA) established in the FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act will be rolled out in January 2023, and MOAA is hopeful the final version of the FY 2023 NDAA will include a provision to exclude the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) from eligibility calculations. Rep. Bishop commented on automatic enrollment in support programs such as the BNA and how it would help reduce the stigma associated with help-seeking behaviors.

 

[RELATED: Food Insecurity in the Military is More Common Than You Think]

 

Spouse (Un)Employment: Closely tied to the issue of food insecurity, this panel highlighted the benefits of expedited license practices and interstate compacts for the 34% of military spouses who work in licensed or credentialed fields. Washington state offers expedited license processing for military spouses. In Washington, according to the VA’s military spouse liaison, spouses in the nursing field are receiving a license within three to five days of application after they disclose military affiliation; other professions are typically within 10 days. Unfortunately, some spouses are reluctant to disclose military affiliation, which presents a barrier.

 

Military Housing: The moderator opened this panel with a question about the Fairchild housing wait list, eliciting groans from the audience -- 157 families are on that list right now. The base’s housing manager addressed issues with prioritization and the failure of BAH to keep pace with the current housing market.

 

MOAA supports efforts to right-size BAH and review current BAH calculation methodology to ensure it can respond faster and more accurately to rapid market fluctuations. Panelists stressed the need for public-private partnerships, especially in the Spokane area, to provide more accessible, affordable housing to military families.

 

[RELATED: What’s in the House NDAA, and What’s Next for Key MOAA Priorities]

 

Child Care: Nationwide employment in day care services remains more than 10% below pre-pandemic levels, and all families are struggling to find child care. For military families who are moving every two to three years, the burden is increased.

 

The lack of adequate pay and benefits for child care providers must be addressed. DoD offers the highest echelon of child care, but with limited spots available at child development centers, a possible solution mentioned by the panel is the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood-PLUS program. This program is designed to help child care facilities outside the gate work to achieve higher standards and become eligible to receive child care fee assistance subsidies.

 

The summit demonstrates the commitment lawmakers, DoD leaders, and others have to ensuring military families have access to the support they need. By hearing directly from servicemembers and their families, these policymakers can gather knowledge to help shape new programs and change existing ones to combat both new and existing challenges.

 

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About the Author

Jen Goodale
Jen Goodale

Goodale is MOAA's Director of Government Relations for Military Family Policy and Spouse Programs.