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Bill could help spouses keep govt. jobs

A military spouse looks over current positions available under the Direct Hiring Authority program at a job fair held at Ramstein Air Base, March 3, 2023. Photo credit: Jordan Lazaro, U.S. Air Force

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Numerous military spouses are compelled to resign from their federal positions due to their partners' transfers, resulting in the loss of benefits accumulated over years of continuous service. In an effort to support those facing such challenges, Emmalee Gruesen, a military spouse employed as a program analyst with the Navy, and Maria Donnelly, an Army spouse, secured bipartisan support in Congress to introduce legislation known as the Resilient Employment and Authorization Determination to Increase National Employment of Serving Spouses Act, or READINESS Act, according to a story this week in Stars and Stripes.

Championed by Representatives Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas) and Don Bacon (R-Neb), the READINESS Act has garnered support from 10 co-sponsors and is expected to be formally introduced. The primary aim of this legislation is to compel federal agencies to leverage existing policies related to remote work and non-pay status, thereby facilitating military spouses in building a sustained career in federal service.

Rep. Crockett emphasizes the urgency of retaining valuable federal employees within the military community, asserting that the current rate of attrition is alarming. According to Stars and Stripes, the READINESS Act proposes options for military spouses facing relocation, allowing them to request an individual determination about the feasibility of completing their job remotely on a temporary basis, being reassigned to the new duty station, or transferring to a comparable role.

Should these options prove impractical, the bill allows the affected employee to enter non-pay status. While the spouse retains nonfinancial benefits, the employer gains the flexibility to fill the vacant position. The scope of the legislation extends to spouses of Foreign Service employees as well.

Maria Donnelly told Stars and Stripes that the bill underscores the significance of the non-pay status provision, emphasizing that it enables employees to maintain their security clearance, facilitates quicker hiring into new roles, and allows them to meet the threshold for retirement program vesting. The focus, she insists, is on building a career rather than simply finding a job for the spouse.

Military spouse unemployment is a longstanding issue, with the Defense Department reporting a rate of approximately 21%., Stars and Stripes reported. Despite significant financial investments aimed at reducing this figure, little progress has been made. The READINESS Act addresses federal service as a strategic starting point to tackle spousal unemployment, given the widespread presence of federal jobs in areas with military bases.

Research by Blue Star Families reveals that two-thirds of military spouses lose their jobs during duty station changes, according to Stars and Stripes. Kathy Roth-Douquet, CEO of Blue Star Families, contends that resolving the military spouse unemployment crisis is essential for national security, emphasizing the need to retain these employees through military relocations.

Support for the READINESS Act extends beyond its sponsors, with military and veteran service organizations such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Military Officers Association of America, and the Military Family Advisory Network endorsing the legislation. Shannon Razsadin, president and executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network, told Stars and Stripes that she believes the act will eliminate barriers to employment for military spouses, recognizing and retaining the valuable talent this community brings to the workforce.

While an earlier attempt to include the READINESS Act as an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2024 National Defense Authorization Act fell short, Gruesen and Donnelly express optimism that the straightforward nature of the bill will garner increased support this time around.

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