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Mission: Family: Off-base subsidy can help parents with child care search

Mar. 1, 2012 - 03:51PM   |   Last Updated: Mar. 1, 2012 - 03:51PM  |  
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About the author

Karen Jowers is the wife of a military retiree.

Getting into a child care center or family child care home on a military installation is a highly valued benefit. The cost is reasonable because the Defense Department subsidizes it.

Child care on military installations is also highly regulated, so parents trust that it is safe, nurturing and educational.

The longstanding problem for many military families is that not enough child care is available.

Defense and service officials have been working to increase capacity, including building more child care centers. They are also providing fee subsidies for child care in local communities, to bring families' costs closer to what they would pay on base.

But not all service members know that this program exists. One service member told auditors with the Government Accountability Office who were studying the issue that he didn't find out about DoD's off-base subsidy program until he told his child care provider that he could no longer afford its fees, after using the provider for several months.

Fee assistance varies, and for many programs, it is based on total family income and the provider's rates. Some families also believe eligibility for the program is need-based, and that they might not qualify because their income is too high. Total family income is one factor, just as it is with military child care centers and subsidies for family child care homes on base.

Eligibility varies among military branches, which have varying limits on the amount of fee assistance that is allowed. But generally:

Fee assistance programs are provided for children up to 12 years old.

The spouse must be working or enrolled in school. This also applies to unmarried parents living in the same household. Temporary assistance is available for spouses looking for work.

Families must use a provider with a state child care license, who has been inspected within the last 12 months and who has registered with the National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies and meets the requirements. NACCRRA is the contractor that administers DoD's off-installation child care subsidies.">Click here to apply online. This website also provides detailed information about the assistance, and about the individual services' eligibility requirements. You can search NACCRRA's online approved and preferred child care provider directory, or call Child Care Aware at 800-424-2246.

There's no guarantee that you'll receive fee assistance. But Kelly Hruska of the National Military Family Association always advises families to at least submit an application.

"If you don't ask, the answer is always no," Hruska said.

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