How America’s Cities Can Welcome Military Families

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Each year, approximately 430,000 military families pack up their belongings and relocate to somewhere new — perhaps to your city, community, or town. Military families are used to moving: They move, on average, every 24 to 36 months.

This year, however, the Permanent Change of Station (PCS) season promises to be especially difficult. From March to June, the Department of Defense temporarily froze the moving process to slow the spread of COVID-19, and now military families are moving on a tighter timeline while facing challenging pandemic-related restrictions. Military families are taking on the general stressor of moving, while coping with numerous other challenges as they settle into their new cities, neighborhoods, workplaces, and schools.

The good news is that your residents, constituents, local business leaders, and stakeholders can help. Here’s how:

Be aware of financial strains.

The moving process takes a significant financial toll on military families. The Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN)’s recently released 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey revealed that 77% of survey respondents indicated that they’re in debt, and one-fourth said they have less than $500 in savings. Information supplied by our survey respondents indicates that every military move can set families back, on average, about $5,000 in expenses for which they are not reimbursed. General awareness around the financial well-being of military families is incredibly important, but this is a reality many would not expect

Educate local employers to hire military spouses.

Even prior to COVID-19, military spouses were struggling under an unemployment rate much higher than their civilian counterparts, and it has only gotten worse with the pandemic. By some estimates, 24% of military spouses who want to work, approximately 90% of whom are female, are currently unemployed. Respondents to the 2019 Military Family Support Programming Survey indicated that the demands of military life — namely, frequently moving and needing to adapt to a service member’s unpredictable schedule — makes finding and keeping a job difficult. Respondents said their job search experiences were generally negative and many respondents struggled with employer bias, location obstacles, access to childcare, and unsuccessful job searches. Nearly one-third of respondents said they could not find effective support, and an additional 22.8% said they needed more information about available resources. Overall, military spouses need portable, flexible jobs, and they need to be able to easily transfer their licenses from one state to the next.

Ensure affordability and availability of housing.

Choosing a place to live is an essential process during a move, and the choice can affect families’ lives for the duration of their stay in your community. There are several ways that your community can set service members and their families up for success: Ensure there is enough inventory and availability of housing options to support the influx of military families each year; ensure that these available options stay within the general range of the military’s Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH); and work together with community agencies and partners to monitor the safety of these areas. When families know that they can afford their mortgage or rent and basic utilities each month, it frees up their ability to spend more on other essential items — thus contributing to your local sales tax revenue and overall economic impact within your community.

Connect families to local resources.

One in eight survey respondents told us that they have experienced food insecurity, meaning that they haven’t always known where their next meal would be coming from. One-fourth of respondents said their school-aged military children receive free or reduced-price lunches at school. This is a problem that could be exacerbated by the pandemic and economic downturn, as military spouses who are working are laid off from their jobs. Help military families connect to local resources and be sure that the organizations in your community that provide support are aware of the unique experiences and needs of military families.

Lack of awareness of local resources is one of the hardest parts about moving frequently and relocating to a new community. Whether critical resources, like trusted medical providers and auto repair shops, or the comforts of home, like a new favorite coffee shop or community center, often times, military families don’t know where to turn for the services that bring about a sense of belonging.

MFAN created MilMap, a user-generated resource locator map, to help military families get settled faster. A military family member, veteran, transitioning service member, or wounded warrior can go online to MilMap and find local resources anywhere they now call home.

You are your community’s experts and ambassadors. By contributing to and populating MilMap with resources, you can show our military families those local favorites and hidden gems in your area — the things that will make them feel welcome. Encourage your Chambers of Commerce, Convention and Visitors Bureaus, other civic organizations, as well as local merchants and non-profit organizations to enter information into MilMap.

Resources can be submitted individually or in groupings. The MFAN team will vet each resource and publish it to this information hub. For more information, please contact MFAN’s Program Manager, Nikole Schmidt by email at schmidt@militaryfamilyadvisorynetwork.org.

In reflecting on her time as a military spouse, Councilmember Wally Campbell, Chair of the Military Communities Council speaks to the importance of resources such as MilMap in helping military families adjust to their new surroundings:

“Having gone through the Permanent Change of Station process multiple times during my husband’s military service with the Air Force, I know how important local resources can be to assisting families with acclimating to their new surroundings. Our military families are facing even greater challenges now in the midst of a global pandemic, and being able to easily preview resources and supports in your new city will greatly help to facilitate a smooth transition for families serving our country.” –Wally Campbell, Councilmember, Goodyear, Arizona and Chair of the National League of Cities’ Military Communities Council

Though military life can be challenging, stressful, and often comes with sacrifices, military families frequently tell us that the best part of service is getting to see and know this wonderful nation, one city at a time. Meeting new neighbors, discovering new things to do, learning the history and culture of a new area — this is the reward our military families receive for packing up and moving every couple of years.

Thank you for readying your communities to ultimately aid in military readiness. Thank you for helping us welcome military families home.

 

About the Author

Shannon Razsadin_HeadshotShannon Razsadin is the executive director of the Military Family Advisory Network, www.militaryfamilyadvisorynetwork.org.