Since 1964, the local tax exemption for active-duty military pay was a small benefit for soldiers and airmen deployed stateside, often before being deployed overseas into harm’s way. An inadvertent 2008 Revenue Code rewrite removed many exemptions, including this local tax exemption which was sunset and expired in 2012. Because tax exemptions repeals go largely unreported, for two years or so, nobody knew or noticed any changes. Then in 2015 and 2016, local municipalities started hiring debt collection companies to go after Guard members charging them late fees, charges, and interest, on top of the tax liability. Guard members were shocked with $4,000 to $9,000 invoices, and debt collection threats. Listening to Guard member complaints, PNGAS retained a former legislator, turned lobbyist, that served on the House Finance Committee, and within 10-months the local tax exemption was restored, saving members of the Guard more than $2.2 million a year.
Act 6 of 2016 restored the Local Earned Income Tax Credit for wages or compensation paid to individuals on active military service, regardless of whether it is earned for active military service inside or outside this Commonwealth.
In 2017 PNGAS started an engagement strategy with educators for Guard members to optimize their educational tuition benefits. Through PNGAS surveys, college, university, trade school officials and Guard members enjoyed being asked their opinions on making tuition benefits better. They liked having their voices heard. Schools were equally receptive to listen, learn and share best practices that other schools were using to optimize tuition benefits. PNGAS started monthly calls with the PNGAS Education Action Council (EAC), chaired by Brig. Gen. George Schwartz (Ret.).
Through surveys and fact-finding:
(1) PNGAS learned while the Education Assistance Program (“EAP”) is the number #1 recruiting tool of the Pennsylvania National Guard, there was little communication or information-sharing between the 488-EAP-approved schools, High Schools, Guard members, students, parents, and the National Guard. In many instances, a Higher Education provider securing approval to receive EAP funds, was the only measured engagement, criteria, or outcome.
(2) After investing billions to create the best National Guard in the United States, increasing retention rates of our well-trained Guard members is cost-effective, strategic, and wise. PNGAS learned retention rates were strained if a Guard member using tuition benefits was deployed and the school or professor made it difficult or inflexible for the student to complete classes. PNGAS also learned spouses and families were an integral aspect in retention decisions. We Recruit Soldiers – We Retain Families
It’s an institutional challenge replacing 2,300 highly trained members every year, due to retirements and Guard members that have completed their commitments, in an environment where 73% of the high school population is not able to serve in the military.
While PNGAS surveys determined EAP tuition benefits were the #1 recruiting tool, the surveys also indicated members or spouses having bad experiences with tuition benefits were severely impacting retention rates.
PNGAS started a lead-dog strategy: pulling together breakfasts, monthly conference calls, information-gathering, while sharing and promoting best practices on social media, articles, and blogs. By promoting the lead-dog best practices, we provided the roadmap for all schools to see successive programs and move towards excellence. The results were fantastic as more than 150-colleges, universities and trade schools started actively participating, sharing thanks, exchanging best practices, and reporting positive changes they were making at their schools.
Now backed by so many participating schools with strong brand names, PNGAS was building tremendous legislative clout to help secure passage and funding for the historic Military Family Education Program (MFEP), which secured passage in less than 8-months.
Act 32 of 2019 With the July 2019 enactment of the Military Family Education Program (MFEP), there is now a non-lapsing fund providing EAP-like tuition benefits to spouses and children of members of the Pennsylvania National Guard when a Guard member re-enlists for an additional 6-year term. Like the EAP, the MFEP is an almost $32,000 tuition benefit for spouses and/or children of a Guard member that reenlists for an additional 6-year term. Act 32 also modernized the EAP and made EAP funds available to the almost 1,800 Guard members that lived outside of Pennsylvania. PNGAS led efforts to adopt the MFEP and continues to advocate for full funding.
With the strength, experiences, and advice of the PNGAS Education Action Council, PNGAS adopted ten (10) foundational standards for the PNGAS Guard Friendly School designation. In 2019, the PNGAS Guard Friendly School designation was awarded to thirty (30) colleges and universities. Today there are forty-two (42). In similar fashion, based on a scale of twenty (20) best practice standards, today there are morePNGAS Guard Friendly High Schools.
The PNGAS Guard Friendly programs are designed to promote schools and best practices that go the extra mile to help Guard members, spouses, and their families; and by example inspire all schools and high schools to improve. PNGAS surveys revealed students serving in the Guard need flexibility, appreciation and understanding. In 2021, PNGAS is working with hundreds of schools to encourage their schools to be more Guard Friendly, listening to their challenges, and helping them deliver better courses, programs, and services to students.
The PNGAS EAC discovered many colleges, universities, and trade schools were using military academic credit review boards to understand a Guard members military certifications and skills for translation into academic credits. By promoting these best practices, more schools are adopting or developing military academic credit review boards.
We are very proud Pennsylvania offers the strongest tuition benefits in America, positioning Pennsylvania to have one of the most educated National Guard units. As military and domestic challenges continue to get more complex and multi-faceted, we believe tuition benefits are a critical strategy for recruitment and retention.
PNGAS surveys also amplified the need for Guard members and their spouses to have good jobs with flexibility, promotion-opportunities, and an understanding and appreciation of Guard life. The PNGAS surveys also revealed the challenges military families face when they relocate to Pennsylvania, and the Guard member, spouse or family members cannot easily transfer their professional licenses from other states.
Led by the PNGAS Business Action Council (BAC), PNGAS listened to members, spouses, veterans, employers, vendors, and entrepreneurs to learn about hiring needs, job opportunities, entrepreneurial programs, and professional license challenges.
Act 41 of 2019 With passage of the Professional License Portability Act, Pennsylvania licensing boards or commissions shall issue a license, certificate, registration or permit to a military spouse to allow the military spouse to practice the military spouse’s profession or occupation in this Commonwealth if, upon application to the licensing board or commission, the military spouse satisfies all pertinent conditions.