WASHINGTON (AFNS) —
The Department of Defense today outlined a series of efforts — some already underway and more on the horizon — that address the needs of married service members and their families, as well as single service members.
In a note titled “Caring for Our Members and Our Families,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III described those efforts in more detail, saying caring for people is an essential part of defending the nation.
“The Department of Defense has a sacred obligation to care for our service members and our families,” Austin wrote in the memo. “This is a national security imperative. Our military families are the strong foundation of our strength, and we owe them our full support.”
As a former Army officer himself and former Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, Austin said he is aware of the challenges facing service members and their families, and he has makes caring for people a priority for his tenure as Secretary of Defense.
“I have seen firsthand how much our military families sacrifice to keep our force strong, healthy and ready to defend this exceptional nation,” Austin said. “In the face of challenges and frustrations, our families show incredible resilience.”
The memo outlines efforts in four areas deemed most critical to service members and their families. These include:
-Ensuring affordable basic needs.
– Facilitate travel.
-Strengthening support for families, especially for things like childcare.
-Expand the employment of military spouses.
Among the most basic needs of service members are housing and food, and the DoD is working to make sure service members and their families can afford those things, Austin said.
“Our service members and their families must be able to provide affordable basic needs,” he said. “It’s a matter of foundation, financial security and a critical issue of individual preparedness.”
Among the efforts is a review of the 2023 forward-looking base allocation for housing rates to ensure they reflect unusual fluctuations in the housing market. Additionally, in the 28 areas that the DoD has identified as having more than 20% spike in rental housing costs above BAH, the Secretary has ordered automatic BAH increases. These increases will occur automatically for affected service members and begin in October.
Austin also wrote in the memorandum that he ordered the DoD to fully fund the facilities commissioners to reduce food prices for service members. As part of the effort, Austin said its goal will be to ensure that prices in stores save at least 25% on grocery bills compared to what is available on the local economy. .
Finally, Austin said that beginning in January, some eligible service members will receive an additional allowance on their pay – the “Basic Needs Allowance.” The additional allowance will be paid to those who are entitled to it on the basis of their gross household income.
According to Jeri Busch, director of military compensation policy, the basic eligibility criteria for this allowance include service members and their families whose gross household income is less than 130 percent of the federal poverty level.
“The allowance is designed to bring them back to that level, so the amount will vary depending on their gross household income,” Busch said.
Financial assistance for moving
Military families often have to move, Austin said, and those moves disrupt family life, social life and children’s schooling. In the memo, Austin outlined several ongoing efforts to ensure that required permanent station changes, or PCS moves, don’t cause financial burdens on families who may already be strapped for cash.
One effort led by the secretary is an extension of temporary accommodation fees from 10 to 14 days. The temporary accommodation fee covers the cost of temporary accommodation for service members and their families while they seek housing at their new duty station. Also, part of the plan is to extend coverage for temporary housing costs for up to 60 days if a service member has moved to an area known to lack housing.
The secretary also ordered an increase in travel allowance for service members below the E-6 pay grade. This allowance, which should be paid one month before the move of a PCS, helps to offset the disbursements associated with the move.
Changes to the temporary accommodation fee and travel allowance are expected to take place in October.
Help with childcare
Many military families with young children require some form of child care. Unfortunately, the cost of child care is prohibitive for many families, and Austin said the DoD has several initiatives underway to ensure more child care is available for military families and that they are more affordable.
“We must continue to work to provide even more affordable child care options for military families,” Austin said. “Military Child Development Centers have extended their hours of operation to provide additional coverage for our service members to accommodate the varied schedules of military service. The department has reached out to other child care providers in high-quality community children who agree to provide care for military families using our financial assistance program.”
To further help military families obtain quality child care, Austin led increased investments across the department in child development program facilities and infrastructure to increase capacity.
The secretary also asked the Department of Defense to standardize a minimum 50% reduction for employees for the first child of direct care workers employed under the child development program so that the program attracts more personnel. and increases child care capacity.
Last year, the DoD launched a pilot program that provides free assistance to military families with unusual work schedules. The program allows these families to have in-home child care during times when they might not be home, including nights or weekends. The pilot program covers full-time home care for a minimum of 30 hours and a maximum of 60 hours per week.
Initial implementation of this pilot program was limited to just five locations in the United States, but Austin has directed its expansion to other states to provide more options for military families.
The department also plans to improve access to the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood program.
Many military families, like most civilian families, need both partners to work to make ends meet. Due to the number of moves a family must go through during a military career, it is often difficult for a military member’s civilian partner to find lasting and meaningful employment.
Part of Austin’s commitment to caring for people is making sure military spouses can find meaningful, sustained work so they can contribute to the well-being of the family.
“Military spouses are the strong foundation upon which their loved ones in uniform rest – and our communities and our nation rely on their resilience,” Austin said. “We owe them our strong and unwavering support.”
To support military spouses’ efforts to find and retain employment, the DoD has several initiatives underway, including accelerating the development of seven additional interstate covenants on professional licensing in multiple professions.
This effort will ease the burden on military spouses who struggle to find work because the licenses required for their work are not transferred when they move from state to state. Before a spouse can start looking for work in a new workplace, for example, he or she may have to apply for — and possibly pay for — a new license in another state. Spouses are unable to work while they wait for new licenses or sometimes expensive credentials.
Austin also ordered the DoD to increase the use of non-competitive direct-hire authorities and expand remote work and telecommuting options. He also directed the DoD to launch a new pilot initiative in January to provide military spouses with paid private-sector scholarships in a variety of career paths.
Finally, Austin ordered the number of partners in the Military Spouse Employment Partnership Program to increase by 10% before the start of 2023.
Currently, more than 540 government organizations, nonprofit organizations, and private sector companies have committed to the DoD to recruit, hire, promote, and retain military spouses under the MSEP program. In October, the program plans to add 70 more partners.
“These actions reflect the department’s sacred obligation to honor and support our service members and their families,” Austin said. “We remain deeply committed to doing good through our military families, just as our military families remain deeply committed to their loved ones and to the nation they all do so much to defend.”