Companies would get tax incentives to hire military spouses under bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate and the House Wednesday.

The bills, if passed, would amend the Internal Revenue Code to grant employers a hefty tax credit for hiring spouses, roughly equal to 40% of first-year wages, up to a maximum of $6,000. Companies who hire veterans, who the IRS includes in 10 such special categories, are eligible for higher maximum credits.

The program is widely known as the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Military family advocates, including the National Military Spouse Network, have pushed for adding military spouses to this tax credit program since 2019.

“Incentivizing businesses to hire military spouses is an important component of addressing the continued high rates of unemployment within this community that sacrifices so much,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Brian T. Kelly, president and CEO of the Military Officers Association of America.

The military spouse unemployment rate was measured at 21% in the last DoD Survey of Active Duty Spouses, conducted in 2021, and has held stubbornly steady at around that rate since 2015. The rate is two to four times higher than that of their civilian counterparts, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Defense Department, the services, lawmakers and private organizations have implemented a number of programs aimed at helping military spouses in their search for continued, meaningful employment as they move from installation to installation and face barriers to employment.

It remains to be seen whether this legislation will become law, as it makes its way through the legislative process. But the Senate legislation already has 21 senators in support. If it does become law, according to the current provision, it would apply to wages paid or incurred after the date it becomes law.

The Military Spouse Hiring Act legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Virginia, and Sen. John Boozman, R-Arkansas, joined by Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-New Hampshire and Sen. Mike Rounds, R-South Dakota. Another 17 senators co-sponsor the proposed legislation.

Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pennsylvania, Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, and Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-California.

“Our service members and their families make countless sacrifices,” said Kaine, in the announcement. “In turn, we have a responsibility to take care of them — and that must include helping America’s talented military spouses access a wide range of work opportunities.”

“The military spouse unemployment rate has remained too high for too long,” said Besa Pinchotti, executive director and CEO of the National Military Family Association, in support of the bills. “When military spouses can’t find work, it’s a problem for their family’s financial stability and wellbeing.”

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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