SecDef Announces Six New Quality-of-Life Programs for Military Families
On March 22, 2023, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III announced plans for six new programs for military families addressing “essential needs” in career advancement, child care, parental leave, and education.
The announcement came in the form of an official memorandum addressed to senior Pentagon leaders and includes directives in various areas including one anticipated measure aimed at improving childhood education for military families.
Universal Pre-K for DoDEA Schools
Part of the announcement involved the establishment of universal pre-kindergarten at DoD Education Activity Schools.
The press release for these programs notes that funding (at press time) was not fully secured; the press release says DoD officials are “collaborating with Congress to secure funding” and is scheduled for a “phased” approach to implementing pre-k across the DoD.
Related: Military Child Care Basics
Improving the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP)
Another part of the memorandum worth watching? The directive ordering enhancements to the military’s Exceptional Family Member Program, also known as EFMP.
According to the Secretary of Defense, The DoD “is committed to enhancing the EFMP to better support the unique needs of exceptional military families,” and the Defense Department is committed to, “Further improvements and streamlined processes will ensure that these families receive the necessary resources and assistance.”
The Secretary of Defense has ordered changes to EFMP within 90 days of the announcement made on March 22, 2023.
Those changes will include enhanced oversight of the program, the creation of standardized signup and withdrawal procedures, and will require “personal contact” by EFMP professionals with families at least once per year.
Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts (FSAs) for Service Members
Another enhancement mentioned in the memorandum; the creation of Flexible Spending Accounts for dependent care. This allows military families to “set aside up to $5,000 in pretax income through payroll deductions for eligible dependent care expenses,” according to the memorandum.
You’ll need to discuss this benefit with a tax professional to learn what state and federal tax rules apply to you when claiming FSAs for child care and any other pre-tax income benefits in the current year.
Enhanced Military Parental Leave Benefits
The March 22 memorandum announced “new parental leave benefits” in the form of 12 weeks of paid, non-chargeable leave for service members “welcoming a child into their family through birth, adoption, or long-term foster-care placement.”
The phrase “non-chargeable leave” means the time off won’t be counted against their leave balance; the service member isn’t going on vacation or taking a holiday. This type of leave is similar to convalescent leave after an approved medical procedure, also not charged against accrued vacation time.
Expanded Spouse Eligibility for My Career Advancement Account (MyCAA) Financial Assistance
MyCAA offers financial help for military spouses looking to advance their careers with a professional license, certificate, or undergraduate degree.
There is now expanded access to MyCAA programs for families where the military member is an E-6 or an O-3. MyCAA offers up to $4000 in financial help for a certification, degree, or license.
The program now allows E-1s through E-6s to apply and O-1 through O-3s, plus Warrant Officer 1s and Warrant Officer 2s.
Professional License Portability
At the start of 2023, the President signed an amendment to the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act into law that required professional licenses for military spouses to be portable from one state to another, except for professional law licenses.
The memorandum notes that “DoD will continue efforts to make professional licenses portable for military families, working with states to encourage sharing of licensure best practices and approval of occupational licensure compacts. This initiative aims to reduce barriers to employment for military spouses.”
The memo did not go into specifics, but the overall intent seems to be to reassure military families that this is an ongoing effort.
Related: 8 Ways the Military Spouse Employment Act Can Benefit You
About the author
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter/editor for Air Force Television News and the Pentagon Channel. His freelance work includes contract work for Motorola, VALoans.com, and Credit Karma. He is co-founder of Dim Art House in Springfield, Illinois, and spends his non-writing time as an abstract painter, independent publisher, and occasional filmmaker.