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Family Matters Blog: Spouse Jobs Program Resumes in October

By Elaine Wilson
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 21, 2010 – I wanted to share the latest news on the Military Spouse Career Advancement Accounts program, commonly known as MyCAA and a hot topic for our military spouses.

I learned yesterday that the popular spouse employment program will resume Oct. 25, but with some significant changes, including a reduction in financial aid and a change in the population of eligible spouses from all military spouses to spouses of junior servicemembers.

Clifford Stanley, the undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, described these changes yesterday in an interview at the Pentagon. The changes, he said, are designed to bring the program back to its original intent: equip spouses of junior servicemembers for portable careers, such as in real estate or health care.

The program was launched in November 2007 for spouses of junior servicemembers, and was expanded to all pay grades and programs of study in March 2009.

Under the new parameters, spouses of junior servicemembers can apply for a maximum financial benefit of $4,000 for up to three years from the start date of the first class, with a $2,000 annual cap. The program previously awarded a lifetime benefit of $6,000 to all military spouses. Spouses pursuing licenses or certifications requiring an up-front fee of greater than $2,000 may apply for a waiver of the annual cap up to the maximum benefit of $4,000.

Financial aid will be limited to spouses of active duty servicemembers in pay grades E-1 to E-5, W1 to W-2 and O-1 to O-2, as well as the spouses of activated Guard and Reserve members within those ranks. Spouses of Guard and Reserve members must be able to start and complete their courses while their sponsor is on Title 10 orders.

Those spouses eligible to receive aid can use the money to fund associate's degrees, licenses and certification programs, not higher degrees such as bachelor's or master's degrees. However, spouses pursuing higher degrees can explore a plethora of other education opportunities -- such as scholarships, federal grants and the G.I. Bill -- with help from Military OneSource consultants, Stanley told me.

Spouses currently enrolled in the program can continue their participation through Oct. 21, when MyCAA will ramp down and prepare for the Oct. 25 launch. As of Oct. 25, those spouses who fall within the eligible pay grades can continue their program participation. Spouses who no longer are eligible for financial aid still can participate by accessing career and education counseling services, Stanley said.

"The counseling piece is probably the most important, and pivotal, part of this program," he said.

"There are still opportunities," he said. "This one program is just one small part of the overall equation of taking care of our family members. It's an important part, but it's a small part."

These changes follow an extensive review. Officials temporarily halted the program Feb. 16, pending a review, after an enrollment surge overwhelmed the system and caused the program to nearly reach its budget threshold. In March, with the review still under way, officials resumed the program for the more than 136,000 spouses who already had established an account.

The review took time, but officials wanted to ensure they could sustain the program for the long-term, particularly in light of fiscal realities the government is facing, Stanley said.

The program became "wildly popular" before, mainly through word of mouth, Stanley said. People heard about the program and immediately recognized it was a good deal.

And "It's still a good deal," he said. "We always tend to look at the glass as half empty. We are doing the best we can with what we have – I wish we had a lot more money, but we don't -- but this glass is still half full."

For more on MyCAA, read my American Forces Press Service article, "Spouse Jobs Program to Relaunch in October,"  visit the MyCAA website or contact Military OneSource online or by calling 1-800-342-9647.

To comment on this blog, please visit the Family Matters blog.

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