Orders in hand. Boxes packed. Goodbyes said. For many military families, moving from one duty station to another is common practice. Add to this stress a spouse forced to quit a job due to relocation. Securing unemployment benefits is one way of easing the financial burden of a permanent change of station.
“Military spouses are very qualified and most of them have an education. Most of them have to leave their careers behind every time to PCS. That means that they have to start from square one every one, two or three years,” said Verenice Castillo, an Air Force wife and president and founder of Military Spouse Advocacy Network.
Shelley Kimball, a Coast Guard wife and senior director of research and program evaluation at Military Family Advisory Network, echoes Castillo’s sentiment.
“We know that moving and unemployment can have challenging effects on family finances. Leaving a job, losing that income and then struggling to find work in a new community can be a financial hardship,” she said.
Kimball thinks planning ahead is key to receiving unemployment benefits because while almost every state in the country offers unemployment benefits for military spouses, the laws do vary by state.
“Some states may require spouses leave their jobs within a certain window of time before the move, or they require that the military spouse have worked at the job for a minimum amount of time,” she said. “States will also put a limit on how long someone can receive unemployment assistance or have requirements for searching for work while receiving them. All of this will take time to figure out.”
Mary Monrose, a Navy wife, learned from a fellow military spouse that she qualified for unemployment assistance when her family prepared to move from Hawaii to New York.
“I had no idea that we could do it, let alone it be available for us,” she said.
Applying for unemployment benefits took Monrose about a month from start to finish, but she believes time zones played a part in the delay. Otherwise, she says the process was painless.
“Hawaii made it easy by giving the option to fax or email the paperwork to start rather than snail mail,” she said.
Monrose would apply for unemployment benefits again, but she cautions other spouses to remain patient with the process. She says it’s worth the wait.
“Having that secondary income while moving to a new station helped tremendously. Don’t think that because we are military spouses that we are not entitled to these benefits,” she said.
For military spouses looking to utilize unemployment benefits, there are four things everyone should start with:
- Know your employment facts including the length of current employment and salary.
- File for unemployment benefits in the state where employment was held, not the state you are relocating to.
- File for unemployment benefits before resigning from your current job.
- Include a copy of the spouse’s PCS orders with the unemployment paperwork.
There is no denying that PCSing every two-to-three years is difficult for spouses trying to maintain a career.
“In addition to a high 25% unemployment rate, over 70% of military spouses are under-employed,” Dan Manciagli, a job search coach and curriculum instructor for the military spouse community, said. “Resources for military spouses are on the rise and we encourage every military spouse to use the resources and learn new skills to reach your goals.”
In addition to securing unemployment benefits, there are other available resources. Castillo recommends spouses use MSAN for employment mentorship, webinars, trainings, resume writing, local networking and partnerships with the Military Spouse Employment Partnership, Military Spouse Professional Network and other nonprofit organizations that focus on helping spouses find employment.
According to Kimball, MFAN is also about connecting modern military families to the resources they need to help them thrive.
“Leaving a job, losing that income and then struggling to find work in a new community can be a financial hardship,” she said.
Kimball cites MilCents, an online, free financial education program meant specifically for military families. It’s also interactive, giving military families a chance to connect with each other as they move through the program.
“We are all members of military families at MFAN,” Kimball said. “We are living this life, and we know what this is like. That’s why connecting families to the resources, people and information they may need to be successful is so important to us.”
Quick facts about unemployment benefits
- As of January 2019, 47 states offer some form of unemployment benefits to military spouses, with the exception of North Dakota, Louisiana and Idaho.
- Each state has its own unemployment insurance program and typically requires filing for benefits either by telephone or online. Visit the CareerOneStop Unemployment Benefits page for more information about individual state requirements.
- Some licensed professional credentials aren’t accepted over state lines. Dana Manciagli, a job search coach and curriculum instructor for the military spouse community, notes this trend with Arizona becoming the first state to recognize out-of-state occupational licenses in April of 2019. However, it may be years before all states adopt this change.