Barriers to competitive employment opportunities are nothing new for military spouses. Even when employment is secured, many are unable to meet qualifiers for retirement benefits. One spouse hopes to change that.
Chandee Ulch is an Army spouse of over 15 years. With her husband soon to retire, Ulch began examining her own lackluster retirement savings. She realized she wasn’t alone.
“It’s the running theme with all military spouses. I was a teacher for 16 years in different locations and could never get tenure. One place boldly said it was because I was a military spouse,” she explained.
Studies have proven that military spouses are both unemployed and underemployed compared to their civilian counterparts. Although national attention in the last few years has turned to these issues, nothing has been done to address their retirement security.
With this in mind Ulch approached Senator Susan Collins of Maine on crafting a bill that would allow military spouses to gain things like vestment and tenure, something difficult to obtain with frequent military moves. For Collins, it was a piece of legislation she was excited to get behind.
“Military spouses are the unsung heroes of our country’s national defense. I have heard from numerous military spouses about how they often put their professional lives on hold, threatening their long-term retirement security,” Collins said.
Collins and Senator Margaret Hassan drafted the bipartisan Military Spouse Retirement Act and introduced it into the senate.
Every year, around one-third of America’s military will experience a permanent change of duty station. According to TRANSCOM, they are orchestrating the moves of between 420,000 and 450,000 military families every year. Although military spouses tend to have larger rates of higher education and credentialing than the civilian population, finding employment after each move is still difficult.
“When military spouses find a new job, they often work part-time, despite preferring full-time work, or are only able to spend a few years with their employer before moving again. Their limited hours and short tenure often preclude them from being eligible to receive employer contributions to their retirement plan or from being fully vested in their plan,” Collins explained.
The Military Spouse Retirement Act will start with small businesses
The bill calls for small businesses with 100 or less employees to be eligible for a tax deduction of up to $500 per year for each military spouse. It’s a tax benefit that would be available for three years and also calls for the business to make military spouses immediately eligible for participation in the retirement plan. The bill further makes the military spouse eligible for the matching and full vestment within a minimum of two years.
“We live in a day and culture where we need two incomes. This includes retirement; we still need retirement for both of us. That is the environment we live in,” Ulch explained.
As she continued to talk to other military spouses, there was a complete and resounding agreement of the desperate need for retirement support but also the collective thought that it wasn’t something that could be possible.
The Military Spouse Retirement Security Act will finally make it a reality, starting with small businesses.
“The bipartisan legislation I introduced with Senator Hassan would help address this need by providing a tax credit to small employers who provide military spouses with accelerated eligibility for retirement plan participation, employer contributions and vesting,” Collins said. “Increasing access to employer-sponsored retirement plans would improve the financial security of many military spouses.”
Ulch explained that one of the reasons she wanted to start with small businesses is because of the current push for military spouse entrepreneurship.
“If they hire military spouses and give them the opportunity to start plans and have employee retirement benefits, it helps both. It allows them [the business] to have the tax deduction and encourages the hiring of military spouses,” she said.
The Senate bill has a similar version making its way through the House of Representatives and now boasts 12 cosponsors. Congressman Charlie Crist of Florida recently signed on to support the bill.
“Military families are the unseen heroes of America’s national defense, supporting our service members and standing by them through frequent deployments and relocations. Unfortunately, these noble sacrifices limit their eligibility for retirement benefits that many civilian workers enjoy,” he said.
Crist explained further that this bill is righting a wrong and will ultimately positively impact their long-term financial security. While there is current legislation focusing on the immediate and vital needs of military spouses, like employment, the Military Spouses Retirement Security Act tackles the long-term needs.
Recently, the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) pledged it’s support for the bill.
“Senior Army leaders have pledged to focus on the issue as one of five quality of life priorities for the service, and it is viewed as critical to retaining the talent the military needs in the ranks,” according to a statement on its website.
Ulch implored military spouses to think about what they want life to look like outside of the military because one day that will be a reality.
Both Senator Collins and Representative Crist encouraged military spouses and their families to write to their representatives to back this bill.
Ulch hopes that even the youngest military spouse recognizes the importance of saving for retirement.
“I want people to realize they are never too young to think about their golden years.”Read comments