The truth behind the costs of on-base child care

The truth behind the costs of on-base child care

By Rebecca Alwine

The truth behind the costs of on-base child care
(Photo: U.S. Air Force, Airman 1st Class Rustie Kramer/Released)

Throughout my years as a military spouse, I’ve seen some of the same questions repeatedly. Topping the list are questions about child care– both the occasional date night sitter and full-time care. From hourly care to full-time child care, there are a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation surrounding child care. Here’s the skinny.

How much does child care cost?

This is not a short or easy answer. The Department of Defense establishes a fee chart for child care services. The costs are equal across the services– certain branches do not pay more than others.

However, child care rates vary based on rank. I’m sure you’ve heard about this before– someone is always outraged that they pay more than someone else. I equate this to the same way BAH works on post. In an E1-E5 neighborhood, someone is always pays more for the same size house. Child care costs are similarly structured.

So how do I know how much I have to pay?

“When calculating level of pay, we include all earned income, including special duty pay, retirement or other pension income including SSI paid to the spouse and VA benefits paid to the surviving spouse before deductions and taxes,” Jennifer Lotton, Parent & Outreach Services Director at Fort Huachuca explained. “Also, BAH and BAS. For dual military living in government quarters the Basic Allowance for Housing with Dependents Rate (BAH RC/T) is used for the senior member only.”

Basically, everything counts. Spouse’s pay is the one variable that people often forget. Proof is required for all income, LES, pay stubs, or other income streams.

What about using care off-post? I heard they’ll pay for that.

Lotton explained that while there is a program called child Care Aware that subsidizes child care for military families, it is not the norm. Child and Youth Services (CYS) at Fort Huachuca doesn’t utilize Child Care Aware because they are always able to provide services for their families in the programs they offer. “Fee assistance for patrons seeking care in outside agencies is not warranted unless they are located in an area where care is not provided or if CYS was unable to provide services and outside services are more expensive, Lotton explained.”

This occurred quite a bit for families stationed at Fort Meade, for example, where the cost of living is incredibly high and the cost for an infant in full-time, off installation care, averages $400 a week.

Most of the time, families can get into the programs on the installation–often after waiting on the list for a while– especially when there are also Family Child Care Providers, who offer services in their homes through CYS. In fact, Lotton can only recall one instance where they have assisted a soldier navigate the Child Care Aware subsidy program. “The soldier was working at a recruiting station in Phoenix and was not near any installation that had available child care spaces,” she explained.

What if I can’t afford it?

Child care costs should absolutely be considered when spouses are looking to work. Sometimes the cost of the child care makes the take home pay of the spouse minimal, which may have families deciding against it. With the fee schedule, some of the cost may be offset. For example, a Category 5 family with two kids in full-time care would pay $980.50 a month, with the second-child discount of 15%.  Make sure to weigh all your options carefully, crunch the numbers, and talk to your local CYS staff to make sure you have every bit of information specific to your installation.

If you do find yourself in the position of needing to utilize the Child Care Aware subsidy program, there are details online and your local CYS is a great place to start. The subsidies are awarded based on total family income, just like the care provided on the installation and then sends the payments to the child care provider chosen. Fee assistance can cover non-school-aged children that are enrolled at least 16 hours a week and school-aged children who are in care 6 hours a week during the school year and at least 16 hours a week during summer break. For more information on fee assistance for your specific branch, visit the website here.

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2 Replies to “The truth behind the costs of on-base child care”

  1. The fact is, it’s not the same across all branches. The Camp Pendleton’s hourly care is 6.00/hr to San Diego 4.00 (ran by the Navy). The price of the Marine Corps is per week. The Navy is twice a month: which means that there are more pay periods in the Marine Corps programs, making it more expensive. Furthermore, the full time care of the Marine Corps does not offer a sibling discount. We have triplets and a 3 year old and will pay 6,000.00 per year more $32,000 vs $24,000 for child care on the Marine Base as opposed to the Navy Base. The Marine Corps also limits hours to 50 a week, when all other CDC’s in the Navy offer 12 hours per day, or 60 per week which is more in line with dual active duty hours. Furthermore the Marine Corps doesn’t offer 24 hour care for dual or single active duty with duty schedules or hospital hours/night shift. The Marine Corps care should be taken over by the Navy. When I asked the Camp Pendleton child care office why they can’t offer a sibling discount or work with us on the price for our triplets they said “we can’t afford to run with offering sibling discounts”. They offered us to speak with the finance office about our debt instead (we don’t have debt problems or problems paying our bills). They are a contract company hired by MCCS. If you have your kids there more than 50 hours it’s 3.00 per hour per child extra after the 50 hours. A group of us put in an ICE complaint about it, and now they offer department heads/CO’s to write a letter every 3 months. The Navy offers a 2 week vacation period, where if you are taking leave, you can let the CDC know and won’t have to pay for that period. The Marine Corps does not.

  2. Lisa jones says:

    I work for the navy CDC and I will tell you this it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. My kid is enrolled and we pay $640 a month for our child 9 hours a day since I work 9 hours a day. Second if you go over the 12 hours a day more then once they will have a sit down and talk with you and if you do it again they will report you to child protective services as they believe it child neglect because you are not taking care of your child. Having worked in both public and military child care I feel military memebers abuse child care programs and that’s where military brat comes from. You don’t understand the psychological problems this does to children by the parents not spending time with them. I know when parents are off and not working as my husband works with these same people and they still drop there kids off for 12 hours why???? My husband is off and I have to work our kid is home not dumped in a center.

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