Bill to help military spouse employment

Published 10:27 pm Friday, February 2, 2018

Military spouses were the stars of the show when Sen. Tim Kaine came to Suffolk on Friday to talk about new legislation.

Kaine on Tuesday will introduce the Military Spouse Employment Act in the Senate, and during his time at Old Dominion University’s Virginia Modeling, Analysis and Simulation Center in North Suffolk, he discussed the benefits of the bill and the feasibility of having that bill become law.

“I am so thrilled by the level to which Senator Kaine put his heart into this, and for that I am grateful,” said Blue Star Families Chief Executive Officer Kathy Roth-Douquet as she introduced Kaine on Friday.

Newsletter

Email newsletter signup

Kaine has been involved with the military and veteran issues since he began running for the Senate in 2012, when he submitted a bill called the Troop Talent Act. The act brought down the veteran unemployment rate.

During another roundtable focused on health needs of military families, the topic of military spouse unemployment and underemployment kept coming up. Difficulties in spousal employment in the military stem from frequent moves, Kaine said.

“The measure of the unemployment rate of military spouses is very challenging. But the military spouse unemployment rate, depending on the measure you look at, is between 12 and 25 percent,” Kaine said. “Military spouse unemployment is a military readiness issue.”

The bill Kaine will submit focuses on four points that have the possibility to improve the rate of unemployment — direct employment opportunities, continuing education, childcare and counseling and transition assistance.

“They don’t completely cover the universe of what a military spouse needs, but I think it’s a really solid bill that can help us start to tackle this problem,” Kaine said.

The bill will have federal agencies expedite job applicants who are military spouses. The Department of Defense will be required to increased participation from military-friendly businesses, and with the passing of the bill, the DOD will be encouraged to submit plans to facilitate entrepreneurship on military installations.

Encouraging entrepreneurship with military spouses can help families maintain being a two-income household, because businesses can move with them. Lakesha Cole, a military spouse and business owner, was Kaine’s guest at Tuesday’s State of the Union Address and also was present during Friday’s event. Cole has experienced hardships with frequent moves while her husband has been in the Marine Corps, and the struggles extended when she started her own business.

This bill would directly affect spouses like Cole, and they would also prevent spouses from losing money like she did during a big move overseas to Okinawa, Japan, Cole said.

Another facet of the bill will bring attention to the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts. The program doesn’t have the kind of attention it needs to help military spouses, Kaine said. MyCAA helps military spouses obtain certificates, licensures, certifications and associate degrees to help pursue gainful employment.

While childcare a problem not just for military families, it can be more difficult for military families. Problems with childcare range from availability to cost, and the bill would help increase options without sacrificing quality, Kaine said.

The current Transition Assistance Program does not always allow spouses to join the conversation and get the resources they need to aid in the transition, Kaine said. The bill would make space for spouses to partake in the program.

Kaine believes this bill has a great chance of passing and becoming law this year, because the issue is not partisan.

“I think we have a great prospect, because it’s bipartisan,” Kaine said. “This is an idea that everyone can realize. That’s not a problem.”

Kaine believes the bill can pass not only because the idea can appeal to both parties but also because they can try to get it attached to a bill that has passed every year for the last 55 years. The National Defense Authorizing Act is written by the Armed Services Committee, and the act lays out the budget and expenditures of the Department of Defense.

“It’s not just a good idea, but it is a bill that is a really good idea with a really good chance of passing,” Kaine said.

Kaine is aware that the bill may not be passed exactly as it stands now, but he believes the changes made, if any, will be positive to the military community.

“I’m not adverse to changes,” Kaine said. “What will happen when I file this bill is it will get assigned to the personnel subcommittee of the Armed Services committee, and there are people on there that might have some ideas to add. I think the chances of it getting passed either in its current form or even better are high. I have very good feelings about it.”

Suffolk Mayor Linda T. Johnson and other members of City Council were present for the senator’s visit to the city.

“We have many military families in our city,” Johnson said. “A good part of our economy is the military, and to make their lives better and get these people working, men and women, I think it’s exciting, and Senator Kaine always does good things for families.”