Military Families Deserve Access to Child Care Flexible Spending Accounts
In today’s economy, most working and middle class families need two incomes. The military, by definition is working to middle-class. An E-6 with over ten years of experience makes just $45,000 a year in basic pay. At the same time, based on the most recent Department of Defense (DoD) statistics before the pandemic, 24% of military spouses who are seeking employment are unemployed and nearly 40% have taken themselves out of the workforce. Why?
We know that one of the enablers for any family to securing and maintaining meaningful employment for both parents (or remaining in the military for a single service member with children) is access to quality and affordable child care. One of the great benefits of military life is that families have access to high quality child development centers at locations around the globe. DoD-provided child care has long been held as the gold standard for child care with over 95% of DoD Child Development Centers (CDCs) earning accreditation. While there are challenges with access to child care for military families due to limited capacity and long wait lists, many families struggle with an even more basic concern: whether they can even afford child care at all.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), child care is considered affordable if it costs families no more than 7 percent of their income. In recent NMFA research, we found that over 2/3 of military families with whom we spoke were spending $500 or more per month on child care, totaling more than $6,000 or more per year. That means a family would need to make more than $85,000 if their child care cost were “only” $6,000 per year for the child care to be considered affordable.
A key enabler for many families in making child care affordable is the ability to use pre-tax dollars to pay for child care using a Dependent Care Flexible Spending Account. But did you know the only Federal employees who do not have access to this enabler are active duty service members?
Secretary of Defense Esper and GEN Mark Milley, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, are aware of this gap, and both have committed to looking into making this available to support military families who are part of their Fourth Line of Effort in the National Defense Strategy. Policy makers in the Department have committed to studying this further.
I recognize that changes in policy take time and the Department moves cautiously – but the Department has been studying this for over 15 years and has done nothing to help families.
Military families deserve answers — and relief.
Military families deserve to be given access to all available options that make child care affordable. They also need to be educated on the benefits and risks of each. Ultimately, they should have the ability to choose what is best for their family – like other American families that they defend each day.
At the National Military Family Association, we have stood up for military families for over fifty years. We haven’t taken “no” for an answer when “no” means that military families are not properly taken care of. Now is no different. There is an easy solution to this, one that DoD said in their 2007 report to Congress has “no statutory barriers”: The solution is to make Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts available now, while families need it most.
By: Ashish Vazirani, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer