Some parents may be paying a few dollars more for child care by Nov. 1, according to the new fee schedule released by the Defense Department.
Fees are going up by $1 to $3 per week in the mid- to upper-income brackets.
But defense officials also have completed a transition to a single fee for each of the nine income brackets, moving away from a range in the six lower brackets. So those in the lowest income categories whose fees were at the lower end of the bracket might see increases of $1 or $2, because the fees now are set at the high end of the range.
For example, the previous fees for those in the lowest income category ranged from $56 to $58 per week, depending on branch of service and location. The single fee that DoD now has set for that income category is $58 per week.
Previously, some of the service branches had moved to a single fee on their own while others were still using the ranges, causing variations among installations that defense officials wanted to smooth out.
Officials began moving toward a single fee for each income category in 2012 as a way to provide more consistency for families.
The new fee schedule must be implemented no later than Nov. 1. The fees apply to child development centers and school-age child care. Family child care providers set their own fees, but the DoD schedule determines the government subsidy they can receive.
Defense officials also allow installation commanders to authorize up to a 20 percent reduction of child care fees for each additional child in the same family, with the exception of contractor employees in the highest income category, who no longer receive fee assistance.
Service policies vary in this regard. For example, the Army allows a 15 percent discount on fees for the second and subsequent children who are in regularly scheduled programs.
Installation commanders also may grant case-by-case exceptions for unusual financial circumstances.
For military and DoD civilian families who qualify for child care, the fee structure includes a built-in government subsidy that reduces the cost. The largest reduction goes to families in the lowest income category.
As they do each year, officials also have adjusted the income categories, increasing the threshold for each category before a family is bumped into the next one up the list. For example, the lowest category income limit for the $58 weekly fee is rising from $30,466 to $30,771.
In 2012, DoD also added optional low fees and high fees that individual installations can charge, based on the prevailing child care rates in their local areas.
Installations may apply for a low-fee option if their child care operating costs are low, and the costs for comparable child care in the nearby civilian community are significantly lower. Optional higher rates may be used in areas where it is necessary to pay higher wages to compete in the local labor market, for example.
Last year, DoD began charging higher fees for defense contractor employees in the highest category. That continues this year, but officials note that the implications of this fee increase are still being studied to determine the impact on the overall fee system.
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.