Iowa latest state to approve unemployment benefits for military spouses who move
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — Military dependent spouses who voluntarily quit their jobs to move to a new duty station are now authorized unemployment benefits in Iowa, the 38th state to grant some form of benefits. Gov. Chet Culver signed the bill March 16.
Ed Kringer, director of the Defense Department’s State Liaison Office, said he has high hopes for legislation pending in Ohio and Tennessee, but he doesn’t see much lawmaker interest from the other 10 states.
With 623,000 spouses of active-duty servicemembers living in the United States — and 65 percent of those in the labor force — the benefits are extremely important to the military community, officials say.
Kringer said that if military families can’t rely on unemployment benefits, the time of transition to a new duty station, home and schools can be incredibly stressful. Loss of the spouse’s income during the move can hurt, he said.
“A lot of spouses feel a tremendous amount of pressure to take the first job they can,” said Kringer, whose Washington, D.C., office runs the USA 4 Military Families initiative created in 2004. Unemployment benefits allow them to better search for employment, “a career-type job, not just an employment job.”
And spousal satisfaction is tied directly to military retention, he said.
Kringer said a common argument he hears from legislators against granting benefits is that the spouse voluntarily quit the job.
The argument came up when the bill was being considered in Iowa, according to a Des Moines Register-produced political blog.
State Rep. Royd Chambers, a Republican who has deployed as a National Guardsman, argued against the bill.
“We have a volunteer force,” Chambers was quoted as saying in the blog. “When you volunteer, you know there is a possibility of deployment. Why should Iowa businesses pay out unemployment benefits when you volunteered?”
Kringer said the Defense Department argues those spouses aren’t voluntarily moving; the military orders the moves every two to three years.
“But we as a society want people, and good quality people, to volunteer to be in the military,” he said. “We want that family to move with the military members.”
Kringer said lack of unemployment benefits could discourage people from volunteering.
Another argument is the cost and the concept that opening the door to military spouses could be the first step on a slippery slope to more people seeking unemployment benefits.
“There is normally opposition from the chambers of commerce,” Kringer said.
But he said research on states that grant benefits shows costs are less than a 1 percent increase in the budget.
“It’s really not a major impact,” he said
Ohio, with nearly 7,000 active-duty servicemembers, also has a bill in the works proposed by state Rep. Peter S. Ujvagi, a Democrat.
Ujvagi’s staff provided statistics showing that the estimated unemployment benefits for trailing military spouses would be less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the total unemployment benefits paid to Ohio claimants from October 2008 to September 2009. In other words, the estimated benefits paid to military spouses would be only $175,530 of nearly $3 billion in total payments.
And even though Hawaii pays military spouses unemployment benefits as a matter of administrative policy, legislators introduced a bill last year to codify the practice into law.
State Rep. Angus McKelvey, a Democrat and chairman of the Economic Revitalization, Business and Military Affairs Committee, said in an e-mail that the bill was introduced to ensure that the benefits “would still be intact and not left to the whim” of a new governor or state administration.
The bill, however, has stalled.
“Unfortunately because of the severe recession and the effect it has had on our local businesses, there was fierce opposition from the business community who said that another unfunded mandate at this time would be the proverbial tipping point for many businesses trying to stay afloat,” McKelvey wrote.
Even though the law hasn’t passed, military spouse Kimyatta Fails is secure in knowing she can apply for unemployment under the existing practice when she leaves Hawaii this summer with her husband to a new Army assignment.
“It’s actually a stress relief,” she said during a phone interview. “It makes a big difference the way we look at the move now. Instead of a big burden on the family economically, now we can at least breathe.”