I was 7 months pregnant, working full time and searching for a child care provider. As a first time parent, I was terrified to bring my daughter home (can you believe they let you leave the hospital with a newborn and no instruction manual?), but finding someone I trusted enough to leave her with all day while I worked made me incredibly paranoid. Add to that the expense of infant daycare in the DC area, and I was a wreck.
While relaying my plight to my coworkers, a fellow military spouse spoke up and asked, “Don’t you know about Child Care Aware?” The name sounded like some watchdog group who might provide a list of reputable centers.
As it turned out, they were so much more.
My coworker went on to tell me about the subsidy she received for her two children in daycare. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. The military would help us offset this huge expense? I wouldn’t just be ‘breaking even’ between my income and the price of daycare? AND the facilities had to adhere to even more stringent guidelines than the state required? Where could I sign up?!
My husband and I selected a few places off their list to check out and tour. We got on a couple of waiting lists at the ones we liked, but we couldn’t do anything with the Child Care Aware application until our daughter was actually born. Once she arrived, we called them (and spoke to a really helpful representative) and discovered we just needed to scan and upload a few documents, and apply online.
To be eligible, I had to either be working full time, or in school full time. So, we sent in one of my pay stubs, my husband’s leave and earning statement (LES), along with the application, and waited a couple weeks to see if we were approved. If we were approved, how much would our subsidy be?
The process was easier than I assumed it would be; I figured I’d have weeks of paperwork going back and forth, and I worried we’d still be waiting to finalize everything when I was ready to go back to work after maternity leave. My worries were, thankfully, unfounded and we were eligible to receive the highest stipend allowed!
So how do they figure out your stipend? In a nutshell, they take into account the income of the service member and the price of the center where you’re placing your child. Suffice it to say, our center was more than their ‘cap,’ which is how we were able to receive such a large amount.
Today, Child Care Aware has contracts to work with Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps families, and Army families now use the General Services Administration (GSA).
I am continually surprised by how many other spouses with children aren’t aware of this benefit. If you’re in school or working, and you’re up to your ears in daycare costs, take a few minutes to look this up and see if your center is listed. Trust me when I tell you, it was so worth it for our family!
This post originally appeared on the National Military Family Association’s blog “Branching Out”: http://blog.militaryfamily.org/2014/12/08/4372/
This post is written by Melissa Judy, a social media and brand manager at the National Military Family Association