The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) can be like Christmas in July for military spouses. Some years, the annual legislation gives spouses significant provisions to help spouses pursue careers, education, and to develop businesses.
On the other hand, as is sometimes the case with Christmas, some years are better than others. While the House version of the 2021 NDAA bill is fairly scant with spouse-friendly measures, the Senate version has quite a few.
Here’s a breakdown of the current House and Senate bills vying to be incorporated into next year’s NDAA.
What’s in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act?
Of course, the FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act is primarily interested in weapons and manning decisions.
Now, the House didn’t exactly stuff its NDAA bill with goodies for military spouses. On the other hand, the proposed legislation in the Senate bill takes some important steps in addressing real-life issues service members and their families face.
The most encouraging items supply additional assistance professional licensing and child care.
Currently, 30 percent of military spouses require professional licenses or certifications. Relicensing with each move presents problems; it’s costly in nearly every sense.
First of all, time is money. Researching a new location’s rules and regulations can be stressful, time-consuming, and confusing. Additionally, spouses may have to retrain or study for tests.
Secondly, relicensing can also be literally expensive. The National Military Family Association already estimates $12,374 in annual lost income for spouses. For a demographic already facing a wage gap of nearly 27% compared to their civilian counterparts, additional fees are anathema.
National Defense Authorization Act: Senate Bill Provisions
To address this obstacle, the Senate Armed Services Committee proposes to put $4 million toward licensing compacts.
What’s more, the Senate bill uses the funds appropriated for PCS moves for to reimbuse spouses for relicensing fees up to $1,000 after a move. The bill defines qualifying costs as those including exam, continuing education courses, and registration fees.
To qualify, service members need to be on PCS orders, and the spouse needs to be renewing a license they had at their previous assignment.
Of course, many spouses would prefer to avoid relicensing in the first place.
Presently, the locations of many military bases themselves are hurdles for military spouses. However, highly mobile spouses will be interested to learn that the Senate bill has in its sights bases located in states with unfriendly licensure policies.
In the military of the future, bases may look different if the 2021 NDAA becomes law. Section 2881 of the Senate bill is entitled “Military Family Readiness Considerations in Basing Decisions.”
Among those considerations are states’ professional license reciprocity. Specific professions it mentions are accounting, cosmetology, EMS, engineering, laws, nursing, physical therapy, psychology, and teaching. Furthermore, the bill leaves leeway for the Secretary of Defense to include additional fields.
Other factors the Senate wants service secretaries and the Secretary of Defense to consider:
- The quality and accessibility of local public schools
- Availability of primary and specialty healthcare
- Intergovernmental support
- Anything else the Secretary of Defense determines essential
The bill requires service secretaries to create and maintain installation scorecards with ratings for all of these factors. Additionally, it allows service secretaries to create and include their own categories.
Significantly, the Senate version of the NDAA includes some substantial child care provisions, including:
- Fees reduced to 85% for second child (and any additional children) enrolled in child development centers (CDCs)
- Requires services to establish fee assistance programs (on the model of the Army’s) for service members’ children to attend civilian child care facilities
- Guidance and authorization to hire more qualified CDC workers
- Requires services secretaries to compile status reports on installations with a gap between supply and demand for child care
My Career Advancement Accounts (MyCAA) Expansion
Finally, the Senate bill proposes expanding MyCAA accounts for spouses. Under this proposal, spouses would receive funding for national testing, including college level entrance exams.
FY 2021 National Defense Authorization Act Has Some Benefits for Military Spouses
Military spouse professionals and entrepreneurs may find reason to cheer the proposals in the FY 2021 NDAA. With so much else going on in the world, they can breathe a small sigh of relief knowing their needs haven’t been completely lost in the shuffle.