Senator Murray Introduces Legislation to Support Military Families

Senator Murray joined her Democratic colleagues to introduce three bills this week to invest in nutrition services, child care, and parental leave for military families

Senator Murray: “Our servicemembers sacrifice so much to take care of this country—it’s important to me that we do everything we can to support them during their service and after”

(Washington, D.C.) – This week, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, helped introduce three bipartisan bills to support military families; the Military Hunger Prevention Act, the Servicemember Parental Leave Equity Act, andthe Military Child Care Expansion Act.

“We owe our servicemembers and veterans the highest quality care and support—and that includes getting them paid parental leave, ensuring that they receive quality child care, and making sure they don’t have to struggle to put food on the table” said Senator Murray. “Our servicemembers sacrifice so much to take care of this country—it’s important to me that we do everything we can to support them during their service and after. I’ll keep fighting for our veterans and pushing for these and other measures to support our country’s military families.”

Military Child Care Expansion Act:

The Military Child Care Expansion Act would, among other provisions, better equip the Pentagon to help fix the 135 Military Child Development Centers (CDCs) operating in “poor” or “failing” condition.

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report from March of last year states that the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) was only able to accommodate 78 percent of the demand for child care development center (CDCs). CDCs also don’t work for every family, as some families need to use in-home care or private child care providers that are not located on-base. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have only magnified the child care issues military families are experiencing due to facility closures, stricter protocols and reduced operating capacities.

Specifically, the Military Child Care Expansion Act would:

  • Authorize the Secretary of Defense to expand an in-home child care subsidy pilot program established in last year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and strike restrictive language from the NDAA that undermines the department’s ability to effectively implement the pilot program.
  • Direct the Secretary of Defense to conduct a pilot program on the expansion of public-private child care partnerships between DoD and private child care providers.
  • Direct a study into current poor and failing conditions of military Child Development Centers (CDCs) as a first step in identifying and addressing long-term issues with CDCs.
  • Provide a near-term fix for poor CDC conditions in the interim by temporarily authorizing DoD to use O&M funding for minor child care construction projects.

The Servicemember Parental Leave Equity Act:

The Servicemember Parental Leave Equity Act would, among other provisions, make sure that all primary and secondary caregivers in the military can access 12 weeks of paid parental leave.

Specifically, the Servicemember Parental Leave Equity Act would:

  • Increase parental leave for the primary caregiver from 6 weeks to 12 weeks in the case of birth or adoption of a child (in addition to 6 weeks of convalescent leave for childbirth).
  • Increase parental leave for the secondary caregiver from 14-21 days to 12 weeks in the case of birth or adoption of a child.
  • Authorize the services to provide the full 12 weeks of primary and secondary caregiver leave for foster children, and require DoD to establish policies that define eligibility for caregiver leave for long-term foster placement.
  • Require the services to implement policies to allow for caregiver leave in multiple increments no later than July 1, 2022.
  • Require the Secretary of Defense to issue guidance to the services about the use of convalescent leave for miscarriages, stillbirth and infant death.
  • Authorize the services to provide up to the full amount of secondary caregiver leave for miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death, and require the Secretary of Defense to establish consistent policies across the services.
  • Require the Secretary of Defense to establish a uniform post-birth deferral policy for temporary duty, physically demanding training, body composition and physical fitness testing across the services.
  • Authorize the services to pilot modifying the Career Intermission Program (CIP) service-commitment period when used by new parents, enabling a one-year service commitment for each year in the CIP, lower than the current 2-year commitment.
  • Require the Secretary of Defense to provide an annual report to Congress supplying data on use of primary and secondary caregiver leave, so Congress can understand trends in implementation and servicemember election to take leave.

Military Hunger Prevention Act:

The Military Hunger Prevention Act would support active duty military families experiencing food insecurity and help ensure no one willing to serve this nation in uniform struggles to feed their family. The bill would create a basic needs allowance to help low-income military families put food on the table.

When the military is unable to provide servicemembers with housing wherever they are stationed, servicemembers receive a Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) to pay for off-base or privatized military housing. Because of how the qualification calculations for federal food assistance programs like SNAP currently work, many low-income servicemembers can be excluded from receiving food assistance benefits if they receive BAH funding. The current flaw in federal law often forces military families to rely on food pantries and food banks for emergency food assistance. The basic needs allowance created by the Military Hunger Prevention Act would help correct for this flaw.

Senator Murray has been a longtime advocate for veterans and military families. In April, Senator Murray introduced the Veteran Families Health Services Act of 2021 — comprehensive legislation that would, among other things, ensure that servicemembers’ and veterans’ fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and counseling, are included as part of the health benefits they’ve earned. Last year, she introduced the Re-Open Enrollment for Servicemembers to Opt-In to Updated Retirement Choice for Enduring Security (RESOURCES) Act of 2020 that would promote financial security for military families by improving financial training. In 2018, she was a key cosponsor of several provisions passed under the Military Spouse Employment Act, included in the NDAA, which provided critical support for military spouses who face far higher rates of unemployment or underemployment than the national average. Senator Murray has also been a consistent advocate for increased funding for and access to military child care programs, and in 2019, she introduced a new, dedicated line of funding for military child care center construction that paved the way for more than $120 million in critical federal investments to increase vital access to child care across all services and ensure families get the support they need.

As a senior member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, Senator Murray most recently worked to include billions of dollars in relief for veterans national assistance programs in the American Rescue Plan including, $14.5 billion for health care services, $400 million for rapid retraining assistance, and $500 million to help states upgrade State Veterans Homes across the country and $250 million in one-time emergency grants to support these facilities and ensure they can care for our veterans during the pandemic.