A new proposal would help military spouses afford transfer fees

Active Duty, Articles |

Moving is expensive, especially for military families. Servicemembers, their spouses and their children are typically asked to move around the country – and even internationally – several times throughout their tenure. Each time, the spouse has to find a new job, which further increases expenses if that job requires a professional license or similar documentation. Previously, spouses would have to pay for the costs of obtaining a new license out of pocket, placing a burden on lawyers, nurses, teachers and people in similar positions. These costs are often a last-minute detail military families may not consider until starting the job hunt.

Thanks to a proposal in the 2018 National Authorization Act, however, military families may not have to worry as much about these costs.

Financial assistance for new licenses

The 2018 NDAA, which must still be passed by Congress, would give the Department of Defense and the Coast Guard permission to reimburse military spouses up to $500 for "transfer fees" – essentially, money to help cover the cost of exams, certificates, licenses and other such professional expenses. 

According to Military.com, the idea was originally proposed by New York Representative Elise Stefanik-R.  

"Military spouses serve too, and this update will help alleviate unnecessary stress and expenses, help ease the transition, and will give these spouses and their families some deserved predictability," Stefanik told Military.com.

The proposal could indeed be hugely beneficial. According to Brooke Goldberg, head of military spouse programs at the Military Officers Association of America, approximately half the spouses her organization survey require a professional license for their career. Not only could the proposal assist a significant number of military families, but the $500 can significantly reduce expenses. Although the cost of obtaining a new license can reach thousands of dollars per move, even a portion of that amount reduces a family's financial burden.

To be eligible for the reimbursement, the spouse must be forced to get a new license in his or her existing career field due to a permanent change-of-station move. However, the proposed NDAA doesn't detail how spouses should apply for reimbursement and, as noted previously, still needs to be passed by the House and Senate.

A smiling woman in business casual wear. Text on the image reads, "The proposal would reimburse military spouses $500 for obtaining a new state license."Spouses would have to obtain a new license in an existing career field.

Proposal praised by military career advocates

Unsurprisingly, this portion of the bill was met with much enthusiasm.

"Anything that facilitates an opportunity to make life easier for military spouses to stay in their desired industry … is a step in the right direction," said Elizabeth O'Brien, director of spouse programs for Hiring our Heroes, according to Military.com.

While the government is required to pay for moves, families still face financial strain – especially if they're forced to move frequently. If they choose a do-it-yourself move, the government will reimburse them 95 percent of what it would cost the organizing body – not the family – to hire commercial help. Alternatively, families can allow the government itself to pack, ship and unpack their items. 

With either choice, there are often up-front cash payments that leave families strapped until the next payment comes through. Additionally, the reimbursement may not cover all moving expenses, such as gas or lodging, or families may break government-mandated weight restrictions and be liable for the excess. Such financial strain is then increased when the spouse reapplies for licensure. 

While $500 toward the cost of a new license doesn't completely alleviate the moving burden, any amount can help. Military spouses sacrifice a lot to support servicemembers, so support from the government is a welcome form of assistance.