Alaska Should Expand Well-Deserved Housing For Military Families


Alaska has a human resource that we don’t properly recognize – or for which we aren’t doing enough.

I’m talking about military families, especially military spouses who bring valuable professional skills to our state but who are often unemployed or underemployed because their professional licenses and certifications are not recognized here.

Overall, the Department of Defense’s 2019 Blue Star Families Military Family Lifestyle Survey found that 49% of military spouses nationwide identified financial issues as the number one cause of stress. for their family and 48% were concerned about employment.

Among employed military spouses, 75% were considered underemployed.

The pandemic has exacerbated much of that. Polls have found that 17% of military families lost their jobs during the pandemic, in addition to the 24% unemployed before the pandemic.

It is a national problem. Military families move frequently due to periodic rotations.

However, the financial problems and pressures are more extreme in Alaska because the cost of living is high and most families, military and non-military, need two incomes. The relatively small size of our economy also limits employment opportunities.

The ironic thing is that many skills held by military spouses, such as in education and health care, are badly needed here.

It’s not just a financial issue either. If a highly skilled spouse cannot find a job, it undermines morale, and this is of great concern to the department of the ministry.

How a state treats military families is also a factor in the decisions the Department of Defense makes about base closures and openings. Since the military is vital to the economy of our state, we should be concerned about it.

On a visit to Alaska, the Commander of the US Coast Guard, Admiral Karl Schultz, told Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Governor Mike Dunleavy that helping spouses find jobs in communities coastlines with Coast Guard stations was one of his main priorities.

State officials and legislators, to their credit, are aware of this and action is being taken. Nationally, Murkowski is now a sponsor, along with Senator Mike Lee of Utah, of the Military Spouse Licensing Relief Act which would facilitate the recognition of licenses and certificates across state borders.

In Alaska, Dunleavy proposed reciprocal licenses with other states, but the legislature did not act on the idea. The Alaska Division of Business Licensing has been applying for an accelerated professional license for military spouses for some time.

It’s not clear, however, that independent licensing boards prioritize this – they don’t have to.

This year, the legislature passed a bill requiring councils to report annually on the number of military spouse applications that are sought and approved.

Assuming the governor approves Senate Bill 12, which is to be expected, that would highlight any lagging professional advice, which should embarrass its members.

This is just the start, but let’s pay tribute to Fairbanks State Senator Scott Kawasaki, a Democrat, who sponsored this bill for years and ultimately passed it. In the House, Representative Chris Tuck from Anchorage, also a Democrat, sponsored a similar bill.

The bill has 11 co-sponsors in the Senate, Democrat and Republican.

As limited as this bill is in what it does, I am surprised that it took several years to get it passed. It’s not because someone opposed it, but simply because it was given a low priority, at least until this year. It is not to our credit.

What’s wrong with professional licenses? This is because licensing decisions are made by independent boards which, although appointed by the governor and confirmed by the legislature, operate independently to set standards and approve new applications.

There are reasons for this. The review of training and qualifications is a serious matter of consumer and public protection, and governors and lawmakers should not bypass the process. After all, who is better qualified to supervise a profession than their peers?

On the other hand, there is always a suspicion that professional councils may be overly protective of their territory and that strict rules could serve as a cover to limit the entry of new competitors.

In the meantime, let’s also pay tribute to two other lawmakers who have taken up the torch with initiatives to alleviate stress on military families:

First-year Rep. David Nelson, a Republican from Anchorage, won a bill that extends state hiring preferences to military spouses and dependent children through the House. The HB 125, now in the Senate, will be reviewed in 2022.

The bill is widely supported, with 16 cosponsors in the House, including many Democrats.

Another bill, HB 53 from Rep. Ken McCarty, Eagle River-Chugiak Republican, is helping military families with children transferred to Alaska.

The bill gives schools the option of allowing military children to enroll in school before physically arriving and officially becoming residents. Currently, many military children are not meeting the early registration deadlines. This is a real sore point for service families. This is especially a problem for school-aged children who need certain classes to qualify for graduation but who cannot enter the classes because they are full.

HB 53 was also passed by the House and is now in the Senate and has six cosponsors, including several Democrats.

Given their momentum this year, there’s a good chance the HB 125 and HB 53 will cross the finish line next year. Combined with Senator Kawasaki’s SB 12, which has already passed through the gate, Alaska sends a clear welcome signal to military families.

Tim bradner is the editor of the Alaska Legislative Digest and the Alaska Economic Report.


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