The Military Can Help Pay for Off-Base Child Care

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

In addition to installation Child Development Centers and Family Child Care Providers, the military branches have a program to assist with the cost of community-based child care if you aren’t able to get a space through the on-base programs. This program is called the Fee Assistance program and 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 a distance from a military installation or the average wait list 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, in 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 child development center on base, which, in turn, is based on the total family income. The fee assistance will pay the difference between the CDC rate and the actual rate for the child care. If a family would pay $400/month at the CDC and its community-based child-care center costs $1,000 per month, the fee assistance would be $600 per month.

The maximum amount of fee assistance also varies by branch. For example, the Army program currently pays up to $1,500 per month, per child, while the Air Force, Marine Corps and Navy have a $900 cap in low cost-of-living locations and a $1,100 cap in higher cost-of-living locations. The programs have the ability to do waivers on the cap, based upon specific high cost-of-living locations or a family’s specific circumstances.

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

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