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.