The Army on Thursday announced that it will no longer end child care subsidies for civilians, reversing course just one day before the new policy was set to go into effect.
Civilian employees without access to on-base child care will now continue to receive up to $1,500 per month for each child younger than 13 years old to send their kids to an accredited center, Lt. Gen. Bradley Becker told impacted families on Thursday. Becker had said in an earlier letter to parents who use the subsidies that the Fee Assistance Program would no longer offer benefits to civilians starting March 1. The program was “being reshaped to prioritize resources to soldiers and their families,” Becker said.
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Civilian families with children already enrolled in the program prior to that date were set to be grandfathered in and continue to receive the benefits, though those families still expressed concern about the fallout of the policy change. Any civilian who moved to a new duty location would have automatically lost the benefits, which employees said would have stymied their career growth. Employees with new children would not be eligible for the benefit, even if they received it for their first child.
Government Executive spoke to Army employees who were pregnant and had planned for the subsidy and others who were deferring plans to have additional children because they could no longer afford it. Union representatives had written to lawmakers, asking them to pressure the Army to reverse course.
In a memorandum the Army issued last year, the service said its priority was ensuring uniformed personnel could focus on their missions.
“I am committed to taking care of soldiers and their families and reducing the burden of military life the Army places on them,” Secretary Mark Esper wrote. “Soldiers must be confident that their spouses and children are supported so they can focus on their mission.”
Esper added that “every additional dollar” that goes to subsidizing civilian families’ child care—“especially for high-income families”—is money that is diverted away from military families. He expected the new policy to free up funding for “higher priority Army programs.”
In his new letter, Becker cautioned the decision to keep the subsidy may not be permanent.
“The secretary intends to use this time to consider any adjustments to the program,” Becker said. The Army declined to answer an inquiry into why it reversed course or what its plans were moving forward in time for publication.
In a previous letter to leaders of the House Armed Services Committee, the International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers highlighted the employees stationed in high-cost areas like San Francisco and Washington, D.C., who would have particularly felt the pinch of the new policy. Army Corps of Engineers employees stationed in New York City pay between $21,840 and $25,548 annually per child enrolled in the Fed Kids center at a federal building there, the union cited as an example.
“When you multiply that by the number of children a family may have it quickly becomes evident that, based on current federal salaries, it will be uneconomical for workers with children to continue working at the district,” the group wrote. It added that employees will now face incentives not to take temporary duty assignments that could advance their career out of fear of losing their benefits.
The opposition to the new policy was widespread. Even the Military Officers Association of America, which typically advocates for policies that benefit military families, voiced concerns about ending the subsidy for civilians.
“While MOAA supports the intention the Army has to prioritize military families, we believe it should not come at the detriment of the [Army] civilians who play an essential support role to our nation’s military,” said Eryn Wagnon, MOAA’s director of government relations for military family policy and spouse programs. “The secretary’s memo suggests the saved money will be used for other ‘high priority Army programs,’ but it is unclear what specific programs the money will be redirected to and if these programs will have a direct positive impact on military families.”