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Illinois Law Helps Military Spouses Get To Work Faster

Members of the Scott Air Force Base Key Spouse Group at a luncheon on the military base on June 10, 2019. A new law in Illinois will make transfering professional licenses to Illinois easier for military spouses.
Solomon Cook | Scott Air Force Base
Members of the Scott Air Force Base Key Spouse Group at a luncheon on the military base on June 10, 2019. A new law in Illinois will make transfering professional licenses to Illinois easier for military spouses.

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE — Anew law in Illinois aims to help members of the military and their spouses find solid employment faster.

The bill, signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker in early August, offers service members and their partners reciprocity for professional licenses obtained in other states or jurisdictions, essentially letting them transfer an existing license to the state.

Starting in January, the law stipulates theIllinois Department of Finance and Professional Regulation must review and grant a license to a military member or spouse within 60 days of receiving an application, provided it meets requirements under the law. 

An applicant must be an active member of the U.S. Armed Forces, a reserve service member, a member whose active duty finished within two years of applying or a military spouse. They also must have an existing professional license issued from another state.

The move applies to nearly 41,000 active-duty, reserve, and National Guard service members and 15,000 spouses who reside in Illinois. 

While military members outnumber military spouses in the state, the law is designed with spouses in mind. Spouses may give up steady careers to relocate to another state with their partners, said Scott Raether, an employment manager at Scott Air Force Base.

“It’s showing the support to the people who are making the sacrifices to us,” he said.

Getting to work, faster

Military spouses can struggle with securing consistent employment; 30% of military spouses are unemployed and seeking work, according to the Blue Star Families 2018 Military Family Lifestyle Survey. Of those who have jobs, 54% say they’re under-employed, according to the same survey.

The new law applies to more than 100 occupations that require professional licenses, such as social workers, nurses and lawyers, and will help military spouses secure solid employment in the state faster by removing one more barrier, Raether explained.

Jessica Manfre, a Coast Guard spouse who advocated for this law, has witnessed under-employment firsthand among her friends.

“I’ve watched teachers, instead of being able to teach, they’ve gone babysitting,” she said. “I’ve watched friends that were estheticians cut hair out of their home because they couldn’t get a license. It’s stories like this that don’t need to happen.”

Many spouses have college degrees or professional licenses in other states but don’t take the steps to get another license once they move because it takes too long or is too complicated, she said.

Manfre expresses her frustration because Illinois faces shortages of teachers, social workers and nurses, some of the professions that need licensure in the state.

“Those are positions that aren’t filled, those are people that aren’t being helped,” she said. “And military spouses could be filling that.”

Planting roots

The specific difficulty of obtaining a new license in Illinois can drive military spouses to work outside of the state.

“People may go and work in Missouri, or go work in Iowa, Indiana or Wisconsin just because it’s easier to obtain a license in those surrounding states,” Raether said.

This new law also helps military spouses because they can apply to transfer their license up to six months before they move to Illinois. That gives them the ability to search for a job and get to work right after moving instead of months later, Manfre said. 

“We want to plant roots wherever we are,” Manfre said. “It feels good to be able to work and be in a job that you love.”

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid

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Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.