A new program launched in February to assist Army families with the out-of-pocket expenses associated with child care.
The Army Emergency Relief Child Care Assistance Program is part of a larger effort by Secretary Mark Esper to address a trending challenge facing soldiers. The intent is to provide assistance to those Army families who recently PCS’ed to a high cost area. The program, which became effective last month, provides up to $500 per month for each qualifying family through grants and zero interest loans to help offset child care expenses, for up to 90 days following a move.
Throughout its 78-year history, AER has provided billions in assistance to active duty, reservists, survivors, and retired service members and their families.
“Childcare was identified as a major stressor by everyone from the Secretary of the Army to families I met with throughout the years,” Retired Lt. Gen. Raymond Mason, director of AER, said.
No stranger to building resilience, Mason feels strongly that the happiness of a military family produces “a better and more ready Army.”
Eligibility for the program depends on each family’s specific financial needs while on PCS orders. Open to active duty, or Army National Guard soldiers and Army reservists on Title 10, the program is designed to cover the childcare expenses leftover after the Army Fee Assistance subsidy has stepped in. AER officers, who are trained financial counselors, work alongside families to determine eligibility and need.
“Going over a budget in such detail expands a family’s understanding of exactly where the money is going,” Mason explained.
Designed for temporary relief, the combination of either the grant or loan coupled with personalized financial counseling serves as a multipurpose tool for strengthening finances and opening doors for families. Spouses or soldiers should look to submit an assistance request in the immediate period following a PCS along with documentation — such as an LES statement, DD Form 1351, PCS orders, and a certificate of participation in the Army Fee Assistance Program. Open to all ranks, the program is based upon individualized budgets rather than income.
A Care.com 2019 Cost of Care survey revealed 40% of families spend more than 15% of household income on care. Among the least affordable locations to use a child care center, Washington, D.C., California, Oregon, New Mexico and New York ranked at the top, though the AER program is open to Army families at any location across the continental U.S. Once selected, families can accept all or a portion of funding if desired. Flexible repayment schedules on the zero–interest loans are yet another example of AER’s understanding of military needs.
More households are dual income, which means childcare is an even more critical piece to spouses finding success, Mason says, so AER works to adapt to the evolving needs of Army households.
“Just ask. We turn down less than 1% of those who apply, simply because we have so many programs to help,” he said.
In 2019, AER began to offer spouses up to $2500 to relicense or certify after each PCS, another expense taken into consideration for families. Covering medical procedures, dental, spouse naturalization, and a wide array of other expenditures, there’s likely a program to meet the need.
“If you have stress on your budget, we’re here to help,” he added.