Columns

Gillibrand, Cotton Want Better Childcare Options for Military Families

Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads Child Development Center hosts a Month of the Military Child parade in Norfolk, Va., on April 19, 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Molly Greendeer)

WASHINGTON – A bipartisan pair of Senate Armed Services Committee members on Monday introduced legislation meant to improve military family access to childcare services through adding public-private partnerships and childcare coordinators around the country.

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) together presented the Availability of Child Care for Every Servicemember and Spouse Act. The bill would add full-time and part-time childcare coordinators to military installations, while also creating pilot programs for public-private partnerships to increase childcare options near military facilities.

The lawmakers pointed to the fact that childcare facilities often have waitlists spanning 12 to 18 months, and 66 percent of military families report difficulties in accessing adequate childcare. Additionally, the legislation would increase flexibility and hours of operation for military installation childcare facilities, the lawmakers said.

“Our military families sacrifice an enormous amount for our country, but their unique needs are not being met by our military’s current approach to child care,” Gillibrand, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee, said in a statement. “This bipartisan bill would help boost our military’s readiness and retention by making sure our military families have access to child care that actually meets their needs.”

Cotton noted that the legislation has broad support from the military community. He and Gillbrand are currently the only co-signers for the bill.

Eileen Huck, a spokeswoman for the National Military Family Association, praised the legislation in an interview on Tuesday, calling the addition of private options “innovative.” She noted that the bill codifies some of what is already taking place at military installations, reforms that are addressing some of the most common problems for military families seeking childcare assistance.

Huck explained that many military families can be overwhelmed when moving to a new military installation, and a coordinator, serving as a point of contact and source of information on resources, will be a “huge help” to many military families. According to legislation language, the coordinators would work directly with the installation commander on a full-time or part-time basis.

“We’re really gratified that Sen. Gillibrand and Sen. Cotton are taking steps to improve access to childcare for military families,” Huck said. “We’re really pleased. We think the bill is a step in the right direction.”

She said the pilot programs, which will allow options outside of military offerings, recognize the unique nature and needs of military families. She said there is a lack of part-time and hourly providers within the current childcare system for military families.

As proposed, the pilot programs envision military installation commanders coordinating with off-installation, private providers. The private entities would be expected to reserve a portion of their allotted services for military families seeking assistance.

Joyce Wessel Raezer, executive director for the National Military Family Association, said in a statement that military families are constantly grappling with frequent moves, long wait lists and prolonged absences of one or two parents.

“This legislation is an important first step in making sure that military families have access to high quality, affordable child care that meets their needs,” Raezer said.

In February, House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith (D-Wash.) criticized the Trump administration’s federal hiring freeze for its impact on childcare services in the military. Democrats presented military documents showing that the freeze directly caused the closure of part-day childcare programs at the U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden Child and Youth Services program in Germany.