As coronavirus raises unemployment rate, this SC bill may help military spouses find work

Jobs & Economy
March 20, 2020

Palmetto Promise Institute President & CEO Ellen Weaver was quoted in this Post & Courier article about a South Carolina bill to remove barriers to work for military spouses. S.455 will recognize licenses from military spouses moving into South Carolina without them having to go through the expensive and time-consuming license process. 

By Thomas Novelly 

As the new coronavirus spreads across South Carolina, many military spouses are bracing for an unsteady job market and rising unemployment rates.

But a bill that’s waiting to be ratified in the state Legislature could offer temporary relief and employment opportunity to service members’ significant others, who were already disproportionately affected by high unemployment prior to the deadly virus hitting the state.

Last month, H.3263/S.455 passed the Senate and is now awaiting Gov. Henry McMaster’s signature. It allows spouses who have moved to South Carolina to get temporary job and occupational licenses as long as they have a similar one from their previous state.

Military families move around a lot. While one spouse often has a secure, although not substantial, income and stability through the Pentagon, the other often is left scrambling to find work.

Relicensing for many career fields, such as hairdressers, therapists and nursing, can be costly and time consuming. Approximately 35 percent of spouses work in a field that requires a license, according to a study by Syracuse University. Only 11 percent acquire new credentials after their last move.

This makes the unemployment rate abnormally high for military spouses, somewhere between 16 and 20 percent, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation.

“When spouses encounter significant delays in being able to become employed, the loss to the military family of that second income can be very serious,” said Bill Bethea, the chairman of the S.C. Military Base Task Force.

Ellen Weaver, the president and CEO of the Palmetto Promise institute, praised military spouses as a “national treasure.” The conservative think tank has been lobbying for the bill because it decreases government regulations in the state.

Weaver said the bill is even more relevant with the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus.

“South Carolina lawmakers made the right call to recognize their sacrifice and remove redundant licensing barriers that too often keep them sidelined at a new duty station,” Weaver said. “The need for this flexibility becomes even more obvious with the all-hands-on-deck effort required to face down the COVID-19 emergency.”

The temporary licensing would not apply to all occupations. Teachers and attorneys would have to be completely recredentialed under the bill’s language.

South Carolina isn’t the only state considering such a measure. A similar bill in Georgia is also awaiting passage.

While the bill has been sitting for some time in the Statehouse awaiting the last few strokes of a pen, the coronavirus began to take hold of the state. McMaster did pass a temporary measure allowing for emergency licensing, while not directly related to the military spouse bill, to help with the pandemic.

The S.C. Board of Medical Examiners and the S.C. Board of Nursing set procedures in place this week to grant licenses to out-of-state physicians, physician assistants and respiratory care practitioners within 24 hours. It’s good for 15 days, and it can be renewed. The fee is also waived.

“This is another great tool to combat this virus’ potential impact to our state,” McMaster said in a statement. “The ability to expedite this licensure process gives us greater assurance that we will have the medical health professionals and resources we need in order to keep South Carolinians safe.”

On Wednesday night, Charleston Air Force Base confirmed the first positive case of the coronavirus. It follows a multitude of measures and precautions being taken by military bases in the state to stop the spread of the deadly disease such as halting graduation ceremonies, limiting operations only to essential staff and closing facilities.

South Carolina’s Department of Defense presence is massive. With eight bases in the Palmetto State, the military is one of the largest employers in South Carolina. One out of every 12 jobs in the state can be traced back to the Pentagon.