A pilot program designed to give military families more options for affordable child care is expanding to additional parts of the country.
Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood-Plus, a Defense Department program that subsidizes child care in private settings that qualify under state programs, will expand to the greater Miami area in September, Texas in October and Colorado in November, according to Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Gilbert Cisneros.
The announcement comes as more military families struggle with the rising cost of housing and necessities -- the result of a rising inflation rate that hit 9.1% in June. Military advocates say one of the solutions to combating issues like food insecurity or inadequate housing among military families is spouse employment, supported by affordable child care.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, military spouse unemployment or underemployment hovered at 24%; the rate nearly doubled after March 2020, according to a Center for Strategic and International Studies report released in May.
The expansion of the pilot program for child care follows the addition of Washington state in February.
"It's certainly no secret there are certain regions and installations around the country where we have challenges in meeting the child care needs of some military parents, especially those who would prefer to get their children into child development centers, where they know their children will receive expert care and wonderful developmental and early educational support," Cisneros told attendees at the Military Child Education Coalition Global Summit in Washington, D.C., on July 20.
The program, which originated in 2019 as a two-year pilot in Maryland and Virginia and was extended and then expanded to Nevada in 2021, is a complement to the Defense Department's extensive fee assistance program for services from private providers who are nationally accredited.
That program, which covers the additional cost of private care above the amount usually charged by on-base child development centers, is available in areas where child care services aren't available or the installation's child development center has a long waitlist.
The Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood-Plus program covers providers who may not be nationally accredited, but who are state licensed and meet a state's requirements for quality and improvement.
Cisneros said that the DoD is in talks with additional counties in Florida and the states of California and North Carolina to introduce the Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood-Plus program in those areas.
The program, as well as other DoD fee assistance programs, are administered by Child Care Aware, a nonprofit that provides child care support and referrals nationwide.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.