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Military daycares could partner with off-base facilities, hire more workers under new bill

A new bill would allow military childcare facilities to partner with civilian day cares and increase the number of workers at military bases, addressing a major quality of life issue for military members highlighted in a recent congressional report.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, both members of the Senate Armed Services Committee,follows several proposals included in the House Armed Service’s Quality of Life report released last week which recommended more childcare services for military families as well as a 15% pay bump for enlisted soldiers and privatized barracks projects.

The DOD operates the largest employer-sponsored child care program in the U.S., serving 200,000 military children and employing more than 23,000 child care workers at a cost of over $1 billion annually, according to the Quality of Life report.

But across the services, the report found over 4,300 CDC position vacancies. One of the measures would give the Department of Defense the authority to partner with local private and public childcare centers near military bases as well as an agreement with AmeriCorps to put volunteers at participating centers.

The congressional panel recommended that the DOD hire child care workers with competitive market wages to retain workers and partner with local centers to expand child care access and availability for military families.

“Access to affordable, reliable child care is vital to our workforce, families and the overall economic development of our communities,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Right now, too many military families, including those in New Hampshire, face unique challenges in accessing high-quality, affordable child care due to frequent moves and new school enrollments for their children.” 

Shaheen said it would be ”a first-of-its-kind pilot program” to leverage DOD resources to train child care providers, increase available child care slots in local communities and provide career development opportunities to “strengthen the capacity of the child care sector overall.” 

The bill would require the DOD to provide certification and training opportunities as well as participate in recruitment and retention programs for childcare workers.

The legislation also calls for the DOD to recruit and offer training and certification to military spouses seeking employment, another issue called out by the Quality of Life panel. According to a 2021 survey, 20% of active-duty spouses identified childcare access as another significant barrier that they face in pursuing jobs or careers.