Unemployment and underemployment are well-documented challenges for military spouses who move more often and have more resume gaps than civilian counterparts. Congress can help military families by passing the Military Spouse Hiring Act of 2022 — but advocates say time is running out.
Military spouses are encouraging everyone to get involved to get this bill to the finish line, with one OCONUS Air Force wife leading the grassroots effort.
Heba Abdelaal, 2022 AFI Air Force Spouse of the Year, is educating others on and advocating for HR 2974/S.3909, known as the Military Spouse Hiring Act.
“Service members are less than 1% of the population, so we can’t take for granted that members of Congress who have never experienced military life will understand the issues that families face,” Abdelaal said. “This has been a grassroots effort from the beginning: by military spouses, for military spouses from Day 1. This is a great example of how our advocacy as military families and spouses can become a catalyst for change.”
What is the Military Spouse Hiring Act of 2022?
Congress has discussed possible solutions to military spouse unemployment issues since the 110th Congress, in 2014. After years of conversations, military spouses like Abdelaal worked with elected leaders to develop the Military Spouse Hiring Act of 2022. It’s a very short, clean piece of legislation with strong bipartisan support.
The bill extends the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to qualified military spouses. Abdelaal explains the WOTC, “permits employers who employ members of targeted beneficiary groups to claim a tax credit equal to the wages paid to the individuals. It’s really a benefit to the employer. It supports those population who face disproportionate barriers to employment, which military spouses definitely fit.”
Currently, veterans are covered under the WOTC but military spouses are not. This bill would give employers greater incentives to hire the latter demographic and refute a common claim that it’s too expensive to train spouses because they move away too quickly.
The act is estimated to cost up to $85.1 million per year for up to 10 years. This is significantly less than the current societal cost of military spouse employment, which Blue Star Families estimates to be more than $1 billion dollars.
Grassroots advocacy by military spouses
For more than a decade Abdelaal has been involved on Capitol Hill. Her focus on military spouse careers began long before she was personally impacted. She said she considers herself lucky because when she became a military spouse — and during her husband’s first assignment — she was able to continue working as a legislative staffer.
Then, in 2020, Abdelaal and her husband received orders to Germany. Even with an advanced degree, nine years of experience, and connections to the community, she was unable to find work as a federal employee. Abdelaal said living overseas “opened my eyes and exposed me to the larger challenges of military spouse unemployment.”
If Abdelaal was struggling, even with all her qualifications, she knew other military spouses must be facing similar challenges. She continued advocating for military spouse unemployment issues through the National Military Spouse Network and became a grassroots supporter of the Military Spouse Hiring Act.
Will the Military Spouse Hiring Act pass this year?
It’s likely that, if voted on, this bill could become law by the end of 2022. But first, Congress has to bring it to a vote and the end-of-year schedule is filling up quickly.
Because Congress goes on recess in December, and the new Congress resumes in January, anything that is not voted on by the end of the year will “die.”
“We have 273 co-sponsors in the House, and 47 co-sponsors in the Senate. We need to make the most of the bipartisan sponsors we have now. Beginning again means approaching every sponsor all over again,” Abdelaal explained.
Military families can support this bill now
Since this legislation impacts so many military families, it’s essential for the military spouse community to show support.
“Military families can go online to Congress.gov, HR2974 or S3909 and see if your Congressional members are co-sponsors of this legislation. If they aren’t, pick up the phone and ask them to put this on their must-do list before the end of the year. If your Congress offices are sponsoring, then thank them for co-sponsoring,” Abdelaal said.
A Change.org petition was recently created at the Military Influencer Conference. Improving the state of military spouse employment can benefit the total force on a larger scale because more household income means security for military families and food on the table in military households. Spouses like Abdelaal add that this bill pass acknowledges the sacrifices of military spouses.
“When we get this across the finish line, it will be thanks to all the grassroots efforts and the work of all our military spouses and families, and I couldn’t be prouder to see them bring this home for our community,” Abdelaal said.