Military Child Care Rates Were Just Cut for Many, But Affluent Families Are Paying More

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Mardi Gras parade at Keesler Air Force Base
Personnel and children from the Keesler Child Development Center participate in a Mardi Gras parade at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi, Feb. 21, 2023. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

The families of as many as 38% of children in on-base military child care could be paying higher fees this year after a set of rate adjustments.

Despite the higher costs for some families, the Defense Department has touted the change in terms of decreases in the price of child care, such as one press release titled "DoD Reduces On-Base Child Care Fees for Military Families." Officials described the rate adjustment as more equitable for lower-income families.

President Joe Biden called for making military child care more affordable in an executive order signed in April 2023. Rather than lowering fees across the board, however, the department restructured the costs around a family income threshold of $120,000, on either side of which most families are expected to see their rates go up or down. The new rates went into effect Jan. 1.

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In a reply to emailed questions, a Pentagon spokesperson said the restructuring is meant to "make child care fees more equitable and more affordable for families with the greatest economic need by reducing the percentage of income that lower-income families devote to their child care needs."

In other words, families now pay closer to the same income percentages for military child care. Families in one of the DoD's "standard" market areas pay about 7% of their income for one child's full-time care in an on-base child development center, defense officials told Military.com in the emailed reply.

"Families with [incomes] above $120,000 per year are expected to see an increase in their weekly child care fee," according to the reply. "Approximately 38% of children" enrolled in on-base child development centers "came from families with TFI [total family income] of $120,001 or more" in the 2022-2023 school year.

The restructuring also included condensing the number of income categories within the fee structure -- a category is an income range that corresponds to a particular rate -- from 14 to 11. The lowest income category got bigger, with the family income cap rising from $30,810 to $45,000. That means more families are paying the lowest rate. At the same time, that rate went down from a standard weekly rate of $82 to $54.

The new rates also include separate rate schedules for high- and low-cost areas, so the "value of the increase or decrease will vary" depending on the base's market category and the family's income and fee category.

Officials pointed out that, under the old policy, families with incomes of $154,051 or more paid only about 6.2% of their income toward on-base child care for one child in full-time care, while families with much lower incomes, between $30,881 and $41,080, paid as much as 11.3% of their income for the care of one child on base.

A Pentagon spokesperson did not immediately address Military.com's question about the extent, budget-wise, to which the increases for higher-income families are making up for the decreases for lower-income families.

Examples of rate changes include:

  • Families with an income of $45,000 will pay the standard weekly rate of $54, down from $82.
  • Families with an income of $65,000 will pay $74 weekly, down from $121.
  • Families with an income of $90,000 will pay $104 weekly, down from $143.

The Defense Department did not publish any examples of increases, only decreases.

"Families in lower total family income categories were paying a disproportionately higher amount of their total family income for child care compared to families in higher income categories," the officials told Military.com. The new policy makes fees "more equitable and affordable for families with the greatest economic need."

Families should contact their military department to request installation-specific fees because "installations may annualize fees to establish twice-monthly payments to align with the military pay schedule or to spread the 52 weeks of payment over a smaller number of weeks allowing for families to have specified weeks [in which] no payment is due."

Related: Defense Department Raises On-Base Child Care Fees

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