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Pentagon to prioritize military families in new child care policy

First Lt. Zachary Elliffritz holds his 13-day-old daughter, Rylie Lauren, next to his wife, Jessica, on Sunday afternoon, following a call-to-duty ceremony for the Ohio National Guard's 145th Armored Regiment. The event drew about 4,500 to the Canton Memorial Civic Center. (GateHouse Media Ohio correspondent / Bob Rossiter/TNS)
March 01, 2020

A new policy will give working military families children higher priority for access to crucial child care treatment beginning June 1.

An increase in demand has created a longer waiting list, making it more difficult for working military families, who move frequently, to find consistent care for their children. The new policy, which was signed by Defense Secretary Mark Esper on Feb. 21, would place working military families above Department of Defense civilian family workers.

Under the previous policy Pentagon civilian family workers were given the same priority as working military families. Since Pentagon civilian workers do not move as much as military families, they have access to consistent care and do not have to wait as long as military families.

“The DoD’s system of child care was established to assist service members as they face the unique challenges associated with the demands of military service. Over time, child care access expanded to serve the total force, but we must not lose sight of the service member and mission requirements,” wrote Esper.

Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, voiced his support for Esper’s policy change at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on Wednesday, saying it will “make a big difference, I think, in terms of these waitlists.”

“There’s probably nothing more important than taking care of our families in order for the soldier, the sailor, the airman and Marine to focus on their job and maintain the high levels of readiness,” he said.

Nicole Russell, government relations deputy director at the National Military Family Association, a private nonprofit advocacy group based in Alexandria, Virginia, said the organization is “very pleased with this move,” noting that many military families are struggling to find accessible and adequate child care due to frequently moving.

“This policy will help these struggling families when they move from one installation to another,” she said.

“This is a great step definitely in the right direction, especially when talking about supporting military families with full-time working spouses,” Russel added. “We’re all in this together, and DoD civilians absolutely are important. But a lot of them don’t move nearly as frequently as active duty.”

Vee Penrod, acting assistant secretary of defense for manpower and reserve affairs, said on Monday that under the old policy the Pentagon “may have lost sight of our military member, and what this does is level-set that the military member priority is first and foremost.”

This latest development is one in a series the Defense Department, lawmakers and other officials are prioritizing in order to make sure men and women in the military are fairly treated for their service.

In the Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, the Trump administration plans to invest more than $8 billion for a number of child programs. These include a professional development and education opportunities for Service members and military spouses; quality, affordable child care for over 160,000 children; youth programs serving over 1 million family members; and DoD Dependent Schools educating over 77,000 students.