Packing up and moving to a new state, enrolling your kids in a new school – sometimes in the middle of the school year — finding new pediatricians and dentists, applying for a new job with a résumé dotted with positions scattered in cities across the country. You’re doing it all while supporting a spouse in active-duty service.

This is the life of a military spouse. Military families sacrifice so their loved ones can serve. They are just as much a part of the American story as those in the armed forces.

That’s why, in Maryland, we’ve declared 2024 the “Year for Military Families” and we’ve issued a package of legislative actions that would support and empower military and veteran families and caregivers.

This is personal for both of us: for the lieutenant governor as the spouse of a former U.S. airman and for the first lady as the spouse of a former U.S. Army captain with the 82nd Airborne Division and granddaughter of a U.S. Army master sergeant. Our families are military families.

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Common conception holds that the federal government is uniquely responsible for supporting military families. But it’s on all of us. States, businesses and nonprofits have a critical role in ensuring military families have the resources to thrive.

And the data shows too many military families lack those resources. Military spouses face a staggeringly high unemployment rate of 21 percent. Forty-eight percent of spouses of active-duty service members say they struggled to find a job during a move or change of station, and 25 percent reported suffering low or very low food security.

To address the persistent and unique challenges military families face, the Moore-Miller administration announced the Families Serve Act. This legislation will create stronger pathways to employment for military spouses by making it legal for private sector employers to put a preference on hiring military spouses of active-duty service members. For the public sector, this bill requires that any military spouse applying for a job in state government receive strong consideration during the application process.

This bill is not a hiring mandate. It doesn’t guarantee anyone will get a job. But it will help level the playing field for applicants whose résumés reflect years of frequent job changes and relocations.

We also announced the Time to Serve Act, which doubles the military leave available to state employees who serve in the National Guard or military reserves. We know that, too often, those who juggle military duties and state jobs use their time off to meet their obligations to the armed forces. This legislation will give service members more flexibility to take time off for personal purposes such as being with family.

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As lieutenant governor and first lady, we’re leading Maryland Joins Forces, a new initiative modeled on the Joining Forces initiative championed by first lady Jill Biden. Maryland is the first state to follow the White House in implementing this kind of program, which will help military families access employment, food and housing, education, health and wellness, and volunteer service.

To drive home our commitment to military families, Maryland is working to change the name of our Department of Veterans Affairs to the Department of Veterans and Military Families through legislation led by Sen. Dawn Gile.

In Maryland, we’re building on our agenda to support all those who serve — in uniform or in other capacities. With Gov. Wes Moore, Maryland has enacted the nation’s leading pro-service agenda. We made Maryland the first state to provide free health care and dental care for members of the National Guard, and we delivered the largest tax cut to young veterans in a generation. We also created new pathways for young Marylanders to serve through a first-in-the-nation service year option.

We know our commitment cannot be fulfilled in just one year. The commitment to those who serve will remain strong this year and every year. But, with this targeted initiative, we hope to support and uplift individuals whose courage, bravery and sacrifice often take place behind the scenes.

We also aim to highlight the role states can — and should — play in supporting military families and caregivers. We hope more states will follow Maryland’s lead.

Aruna Miller is Maryland’s 10th lieutenant governor. Dawn Moore is Maryland’s first lady.

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