Citing dilapidated conditions of military child development centers and barracks, 24 Democrat representatives have sent a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate budget committees asking for a $15 billion investment in these facilities.
“We face a crisis in the quality and capacity of facilities for child care for military families and housing for unaccompanied military personnel,” stated the July 15 letter, led by Reps. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., and Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. They’re asking for the billions to be included in the upcoming budget reconciliation package, saying the annual appropriations process is not enough to deal with the backlog. Speier is the chair of the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on military personnel.
“We have barracks that remind us of tenements and are wholly unacceptable for service members to live in,” the representatives wrote, calling for $10 billion for barracks modernization across all services. But the Army alone needs $10 billion to bring its barracks to “good” condition, and in many cases, to meet minimum Army standards, they stated.
The military has 135 child development centers in “poor” or “failing” condition, and as of 2020, DoD reported nearly 9,000 military children on waiting lists for child care, according to the representatives, who are calling for $5 billion for military child development center projects.
“Annual appropriations are not sufficient to resolve this backlog — and meet our moral responsibility to provide service members and military families with quality facilities with sufficient capacity for child care and decent, safe, modern housing,” the representatives wrote.
The administration asked for funding for one replacement child development center in the fiscal 2022 request — a $20 million, 200-space CDC at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. In a number of cases, child development centers need to be expanded to accommodate more children.
“We believe the upcoming reconciliation package is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do right by our military families,” the members of Congress wrote.
That reconciliation bill has special status in the Senate. It cannot be filibustered, and only needs a simple majority to pass.
But only proposals that change spending or revenues can be included, and items that deal with policy issues many be stripped out by parliamentary officials. Democrats earlier this month unveiled a a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package and are expected to amend that plan to include additional spending over the next few weeks.
Child care and barracks have long been issues in the military.
During a July 14 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee’s panel on readiness, Speier criticized service officials for not requesting enough money for child care and barracks. “I must say that there’s great frustration by members on both the Republican and Democratic side in this hearing about the inability for whatever reasons for the military to beef up barracks, housing and child care,” she said. “The Army announced with a great deal of fanfare, its $10 billion, 10-year plan to bring all the barracks up to good condition. But in the budget for this year, you’re only requesting $260 million.
“So you know, there’s a lot of talk, but the walk isn’t there. At $260 million a year, you’re never going to meet that 10-year, $10 billion,” she said.
The Army invested $2.1 billion in barracks construction and modernization between fiscal years 2019 and 2021, said Jack Surash, acting assistant secretary of the Army for energy, installations and environment. And while the construction request for fiscal 2022 is $262 million, there’s another $461 million requested for restoration and modernization projects for barracks, he said. “We know we need more,” Surash said, adding that the chief of staff of the Army chose to include some barracks projects on his unfunded requirements list.
In response to Speier’s question about whether the Army still is committed to $10 billion over 10 years, Surash said, “We do have that plan, and we will do our best to properly resource it.”
“I think what you’re hearing from all of us, though, is we want action,” Speier said.
Speier also questioned Jennifer Miller, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for energy, installations and environment, about why the Air Force asked for funding for just one child development center for fiscal 2022, when the need is greater.
Miller acknowledged that “we have not historically funded CDCs at the level that we ought to.” The Air Force stood up a working group in 2020 to address the issue, she said, and officials have formed a master plan, with priorities for child care projects.
The Air Force is the only service that requested funds for child development center construction in its fiscal 2022 budget request.
The representatives are calling on Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, and Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., chairman of the House Budget Committee, to include the House and Senate armed services committees in the process of the upcoming budget resolution for the purpose of including the $15 billion for child care and barracks facilities.
Deputy editor Leo Shane III contributed to this report.
Karen has covered military families, quality of life and consumer issues for Military Times for more than 30 years, and is co-author of a chapter on media coverage of military families in the book "A Battle Plan for Supporting Military Families." She previously worked for newspapers in Guam, Norfolk, Jacksonville, Fla., and Athens, Ga.