The shortage of child care is a serious issue for many families. So the Defense Department is taking steps to increase the accessibility of affordable child care for military families, including changing access rules for child development centers, or CDCs, and piloting a fee assistance program for in-home child care.

In addition to installation CDCs and Family Child Care Providers, the military services will assist with the cost of community-based child care if you aren’t able to get a space through the on-base programs. Called the Fee Assistance program, it is administered by Child Care Aware of America.

Each branch of the military has a slightly different program. The application process may vary, but includes registration and verification of eligibility for assistance. Eligibility is branch-specific but is based on your distance from a military installation or the average waitlist for on-base child care. Eligibility also is based on the service member’s status and, if there is a second parent in the home, the second parent’s status in school, the workforce or looking for work.

The child care provider must meet certain qualifications, as well. Child Care Aware maintains a list of eligible child care centers and in-home providers, but you also can ask for exceptions or help your child care provider get onto the approved list. The requirements include state licensing, background checks, annual inspections and, for child care centers, accreditation.

The amount of the subsidy is based on the amount the military family would pay for child care using the CDC on base, which is, in turn, based on the total family income. The Fee Assistance program will pay the difference between the CDC rate and the actual rate for the child care. If a family would pay $400 a month at the CDC, and their community-based child care center costs $900 per month, the fee assistance would be $500 per month. However, there are limits to how much cost is covered by the individual programs, so more expensive child care options will not receive the full amount of the difference in assistance.

The maximum amount of fee assistance varies by branch and possibly by location. For example, the Army program currently covers up to $1,500 per month in child care cost, per child, while the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy have a $900 cap in low cost-of-living locations, and an $1,100 cap in higher cost-of-living locations.

Keep in mind that those caps are for calculation purposes and do not represent how much assistance the services will provide. For example, say a Navy family in a low cost-of-living location would have to pay $400 if they were able to use the base CDC. But their actual child care costs $1,000 per month ($100 more than the service’s $900 cap). The Navy would provide fee assistance in the amount of its cap of $900, minus the $400 the family would have paid at the CDC, for a total of $500. The family’s out-of-pocket cost would be the $400 based on the CDC costs, plus the $100 their costs exceeded the cap for their branch and location.

The programs can issue waivers on the cap based upon specific high cost-of-living locations or a family’s circumstances.

Funds for these programs are limited, and some locations have a waiting list for assistance. In certain areas, the waiting list is long. Your place on any waiting list may be determined by your status and the date that you were added to the list. If you need, or think you may need, child care, it may make sense to get on the list as soon as possible instead of waiting until your need is urgent.

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