Salute to Spouses Blog

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Are you a Working Military Spouse? The Government Might Subsidize your Off-Post Day Care Costs

By Mandy Rebmann

A couple of months after closing on our new house, my husband had a troubled look on his face. He was working on the monthly budget. 

“So, how soon can you go back to work,” he asked.

I knew it was coming. I had already been working on getting a job with my old company, which I was lucky enough to do.  Hello paycheck. Goodbye stay-at-home mommy, “free” child care.

Figuring I would be going back to work, I had already registered my little one at the daycare on post. I knew we would be put on the wait list.  The DC-area is notorious for its waitlists for daycares and preschools; they are expensive and hard to get into, particularly for infants.  With the wait for a two-year-old being 4 to 6 months, I knew I’d have to arrange an alternative while we waited.

Word of mouth among the other military spouses sent me to the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA’s) childcare subsidy program for federal employees.  Particularly for us, the Army Fee Assistance (AFA) program helps working Army families by reducing the cost of off-post child care if on-post care is not an option.  The program buys down the higher costs of non-installation childcare to what you would pay on post.  The Army believes programs like this positively impact readiness and retention by minimizing conflict between work (mission) requirements and the home.

Who Is Eligible?

  • Families of Active and activated Reserve Soldiers
  • Department of Army Civilians
  • Wounded Warriors
  • Survivors of Fallen Soldiers

The spouse of those eligible must be working, actively looking for work, or enrolled in school.

AFA Program

  • Parent Responsibilities- After determining eligibility, parents must complete the application (paperwork), meet the requirements and enroll with a qualifying provider.  They must sign all invoices and attendance forms (more paperwork) to certify child care given, and pay the provider their share of the costs.  They must also immediately report any family or financial changes to the provider and GSA (even more paperwork).
  • Provider Responsibilities- Providers must meet AFA’s licensing and accreditation requirements to maintain participation in the program and receive payments directly from the GSA.  

The GSA works as third party administer for the Army determining eligibility, providing payments and acting as customer service agent for parents and providers.

Fee assistance may be full-time or part-time determined by the status of the spouse.  If the spouse works more than 25 hours a week or is enrolled full-time in college (or a combination of work and school), the family would receive full-time eligibility.  The spouse may also be in the first 90 days of looking for work.  Part-time eligibility can be determined by working between 16 and 25 hours a week or being enrolled in school part-time.

How Much Do I Pay?

  • An Army-approved fee calculator determines the amount of fee assistance for each family by taking into consideration total family income, employment/school status of the spouse, and hours of care. 
  • The “provider rate” is an amount calculated based on geographic location that is comparable to the rate paid on post by families of similar income.  This amount is paid directly by the family to the provider.
  • The provider then bills the GSA for the difference and is paid directly.  The payments are then made directly to the provider.

Simple, right? 

I should note the website currently warns there is a three month backlog in evaluating applications, but is retroactively providing benefits.  So the benefit is there, but it is not a seamless process.  But at a time of skyrocketing child care costs, it’s worth the time.

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