Many Army families are facing huge debt from child care that they were expecting to be covered by the Army’s child care fee subsidy program.
The Army fee assistance (AFA) is meant to cover the higher cost of off-post child care for eligible families. This program was designed to assist families when on-post child care is not available or when a family is too far away from the military daycare center. The coverage includes full-time or part-time care, before- or after-school care, respite care, as well as weekend and evening duty care. The AFA has not been doing this lately and families are struggling to pay for child care.
The backlog started when the Army switched from the program being run by Child Care Aware, which continues to run the program for the Air Force, Navy and Marines successfully, to the General Services Administration (GSA). The reason for the transfer of services has not been made transparent at this time.
The information on how poorly GSA has managed the program however is clear.
The problem started as soon as GSA took over program management. GSA went from managing a case load of 200 families to a significant increase by 9,000 Army families. They weren’t prepared for the substantial change and failed to put into place a plan to carry the new load. So far each plan they have tried to gain control of the program has failed and the backlog continues to grow exponentially. Processing has become so slow that as of the end of July they are behind in paying 9,100 invoices.
Army families that depend on the subsidy have waited months to receive reimbursement or are still waiting.
There are many that report falling into debt so much that they have had to file bankruptcy or had a civilian spouse quit their job or stop going to school since they can’t afford child care. A huge frustration to the majority is the lack of communication.
Staff at GSA have admitted that they have deleted voice messages and purposefully not responded to emails because they didn’t have the “luxury” of time to devote to them as the backlog of other tasks is so high. This simply outrages many struggling military families searching for information.
GSA said that they have been tackling the long list of email queries and that the number of emails not receiving a reply has gone down from 4,000 to 621 since the end of July. That isn’t much comfort to the more than 600 people left in the dark and in debt.
GSA said its goal is to pay off all invoices by the end of this year by hiring more staff. Getting fingerprints and having background checks completed as well as being unable to find enough qualified candidates to apply for the positions has delayed the acquisition of more processors. As the days on the calendar quickly tick by, few people believe they will obtain this goal. GSA is meeting with Army officials to discuss the matter and if and how the program may be transferred to another management company.
In the meantime, Army families around the country will be waiting anxiously to find out if they will be receiving financial relief anytime soon.
The holidays are quickly approaching and this hardship that many families are enduring could put a damper on travel and gift giving. Hopefully, a solution will come soon and the season will be bright for all.