Given the shortage of military child care, lawmakers on Tuesday chastised Air Force officials for not asking for more funding for child development centers in recent years’ budget requests.

“It’s just incredibly disrespectful to your service members” that officials haven’t requested more funding for child care, said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla. , during a hearing Tuesday of the House Appropriations Committee’s panel on military construction, veterans affairs and related agencies. .

While the need for additional child care capacity is military-wide, and long standing, “the needs of Air Force installations are pronounced and urgent,” Wasserman Schultz told the witnesses, which included Jennifer Miller, acting assistant secretary of the Air Force for installations, environment and energy; and Brig. Gen. William Kale, Air Force director of civil engineers.

If plans for construction of child development centers aren’t included in the president’s budget scheduled to be released on May 27, Wasserman Schultz told the witnesses, “I suggest you go back to the drawing board and push to make sure it is.”

As of February, there were 5,116 children on waiting lists for on-base Air Force child care, and the average wait was 151 days, Wasserman Schultz said. There are 50 installations where new or additional facilities are needed to increase capacity.

“I think this is the case across the board, but it’s particularly pronounced with the Air Force, that the [budget] requests have not included child development centers,” Wasserman Schultz said. These centers are needed, she said, “so we can make sure that the number one priority for our service members, which is the care and wellbeing of their children, is taken care of while they are handling the business of their number one priority of protecting our country.

“The very least we can do is make sure 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.”

Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, and ranking member of the panel, echoed Wasserman Schultz’s concerns. “It’s really simple. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. … You have to ask for it. We’re not magicians,” he said.

In her written testimony to the panel, Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force Joanne Bass provided waiting list numbers updated as of March, with 4,050 children on waiting lists for on-base child care, with an average wait time of 154 days. There are currently 175 child development and 92 youth centers on installations.

“We’ve got to do better when it comes to being able to provide child care for today’s total force,” Bass told lawmakers. She said working groups have been examining the issue, and officials have pursued initiatives to be able to hire more child care workers, and increase the number of family child care providers.

Child care problems also extend to the condition of child care centers. “The facility conditions at existing Air Force child care program locations are so inadequate that between 2017 and 2019, 17 programs experienced interruptions in normal operations, including shutting down completely,” Wasserman Schultz said, as a result of the inadequacies. The number of interruptions is the highest among all the services, she said. “Those are unacceptable findings.”

She asked what the Air Force is doing to address the inadequate facilities.

The Air Force is working to be more proactive in the maintenance of facilities overall, but it’s going to take time, said Brig. Gen. William Kale, Air Force director of civil engineers. They’ve started an infrastructure investment strategy, and are looking at solutions for maintaining the infrastructure and making improvements.

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.

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