The Air Force was unable to place thousands of children in daycare for months on end last year, and continues to have a sizable need for more child care as airmen are slowly returning to in-person workplaces.
In a report obtained by Federal News Network, the Air Force stated that demand for child care currently exceeds the capacity of the Department of the Air Force.
“Unmet demand and wait time for care have both increased since last year’s report due to the on-going COVID-19 pandemic,” the authors of the report wrote. “All Air Force installations are offering childcare, but operational status of child development programs is fluid and influenced by local health protection conditions.”
As of February 2021, there were 5,116 children with an unmet need for care. The average wait time to place a child is 151 days. The Air Force currently has 222 childcare facilities.
At some bases, children and their families had to wait nearly a year to be placed into a center. At Hascom Air Force Base in Massachusetts the average wait time is 298 days. At Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C., 327 children under the age of five waited an average of 227 days for care.
“We have got to do better when it comes to being able to provide child care for today’s total force and that is a huge priority for us,” Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force JoAnne Bass told members of Congress last week. “We are not at all where we need to be from a capacity perspective.”
House Appropriations Military Constructions, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Subcommittee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.) said she was disappointed that the Air Force has not asked for funds in previous budget requests to deal with the issues.
“It’s just incredibly disrespectful of your service members and I think this is the case across the board, but it is particularly pronounced to the Air Force, that your requests have not included child care development centers,” she said. “The very least we can do is make sure that we respect our service members enough to prioritize asking for the infrastructure to be built to care for their most precious resource so that professionally they can take care of our country, which we all collectively believe is our most precious resource. If it’s not in the plans for the president’s budget that’s going to be released on May 27, I really suggest that you go back to the drawing board and push to make sure that it is.”
The Air Force set up a Childcare Capacity Initiative Working Group to get an enterprise-wide view of facilities and develop a place to construct and repair facilities to reduce demand. The service is also applying $20 million of its child and youth programs account from 2020 to fund seven minor construction expansion projects. The Air Force is also applying $11 million for new child care facilities. As well as plans for four new projects if funds become available.