Responding to the clarion call for more child care availability across the services, lawmakers have authorized construction of 14 more military child development centers — in addition to the two that were requested by the military services.

Funding for the 16 projects totals about $284 million, more than three times the Biden administration’s request of $88 million for two child development center projects.

Funds for the extra 14 are in the agreement reached by the House and Senate, and passed by both. The legislation is now awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature. If he signs the fiscal 2023 national defense authorization bill into law, congressional appropriators must still provide the actual funding for the projects, and it’s not clear whether they will do so.

The 14 additional child development centers are:

Army: Camp Bull Simons, Florida; Fort Gordon, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and a child development center planning and design fund for “unspecified worldwide locations.” This is in addition to the Army’s request for a child development center at Fort Polk, Louisiana.

Marine Corps: Camp Pendleton, California.

Navy: Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Maine; Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia; Naval Station Norfolk; and “unspecified worldwide locations.” This is in addition to the Navy’s request for a child development center at Naval Base Point Loma Annex, California.

Air Force: Luke Air Force Base, Arizona; Scott Air Force Base; Illinois; Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio; Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas; and “unspecified worldwide locations.”

In many cases, the funds are for initial planning and design of the centers; and these centers aren’t built quickly — it generally takes five years in the military construction process. But in some cases, such as Camp Pendleton, Scott AFB, JB San Antonio-Randolph and Wright-Patterson AFB, the authorizations are for the full projected cost.

“The additional authorizations are good for allowing the CDCs to grow as needed to adapt to the long wait lists for child care, especially as it can take several years for one to be built and appropriately staffed,” said Caitlin Hamon, deputy director of government relations for the National Military Family Association. “However there is still concern with how the services will adapt over the next five years it takes for the new child development centers to be built, as well as whether appropriations will include funding for these centers.

“Given that child care issues can influence a family’s decision to leave the military, we appreciate that Congress has recognized this as a readiness issue and is being proactive about addressing the problem,” she said.

For years, service members in many locations have struggled with finding affordable, good quality child care for their children, with long wait lists in a number of locations. It has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, which affected the availability of child care in the civilian community, too.

And for a number of years, lawmakers have chastised military officials for not asking for funding to build more CDCs, which are trusted by military families to provide the high-quality, safe care they want for their children.

Problems also extend to the condition of the child development centers. One provision of authorization bill, included by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., chair of the House Armed Services subcommittee on military personnel, requires the military services to invest in maintenance of child development centers. The services must spend no less than 1% of the estimated replacement cost for their total inventory of child development centers in fiscal 2023 on facilities sustainment, restoration and modernization.

The Defense Department and the services have taken steps to expand available child care options for service members, such as child care fee assistance for those who use child care in the civilian community. Speier included a provision in the policy bill that requires the military services to implement a promotion campaign to raise awareness of the child care fee assistance options, including the in-home child care fee assistance pilot program that helps service members who want to hire nannies and other in-home child care providers.

The bill also requires defense officials to brief lawmakers on the feasibility of expanding that in-home child care pilot program to include au pairs.

The policy bill sent to the president also:

♦ Authorizes a pilot program to provide reimbursement — as part of travel expenses during a PCS move — for a child care provider when child care isn’t available at a CDC within 30 days of the service member’s arrival at a new duty station. The provision defines the designated child care provider as an adult selected by a service member to provide child care to that service member’s dependent child. The reimbursement would be up to $500 for expenses related to a reassignment within the continental U.S.; and up to $1,500 for a duty station outside the continental U.S.

♦ Requires a pilot program to hire special needs inclusion coordinators at child development centers, based on the number of military children enrolled in the Exceptional Family Member Program at the installation and the number of children with special needs enrolled in the center.

♦ Requires a study on compensation for child care employees at child development centers, as well as study to identify the median child care costs at accredited child care programs in communities where on-base child care facilities have limited availability or where no child care facilities are available on the installation.

♦ Extends the parent fee discount to child care employees, and would authorize child care fee reductions for children of military CDC employees. In October, DoD officials standardized a minimum 50 percent discount for the first child of child care workers providing direct care, to help attract more staff and to increase child care capacity.

Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.

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