A Marine teaches his child how to play hopscotch at the Child Development Center aboard Marine Corps Air Station New River, N.C. (Lance Cpl. Manuel A. Estrada / Marine Corps)
Thousands of Marine families might have to scramble to find new child care options if the sequestration budget cuts continue.
In prepared remarks published by the House Armed Services Committee on Sept. 18, Commandant Gen. Jim Amos said budget tightening forced him to cut or eliminate family services that many view as essential, cancel renovations to overseas family housing and reduce facilities maintenance to keep the Corps’ operational commitments.
In light of ongoing sequestration cuts, “some essential programs at our bases and stations, such as our Wounded Warrior programs, will continue,” Amos said. “Other very important but less critical programs, like morale and family support services, to include the availability of child care, will be reduced or eliminated to fund readiness.”
A spokesman for Marine Corps Installations Command, Rex Runyon, confirmed that the canceled renovations Amos was referring to were planned upgrades at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan. The budget cuts would delay those upgrades by at least a year, he said. The military construction appropriations bill for 2014 included more than $23 million for officer and enlisted family housing improvements at Iwakuni.
According to figures provided by Marine Corps Manpower spokeswoman Maj. Shawn Haney, more than 22,000 children are enrolled in Marine Corps child care programs, nearly 16,000 of them at the 35 on-base child development centers across the Marine Corps.
Construction projects at a number of installations recently created some 5,000 new enrollment spots at Child Development Centers to keep up with a stiff demand for child care and to shorten waiting lists. Military parents pay for child care provided by the military — including care provided at Child Development Centers — but at subsidized rates typically lower than private off-base care services.
In a statement, Haney said some adjustments to base family readiness and care programs are the result of program rebalancing, in which enhancements made during the height of operational tempo in Iraq and Afghanistan were being scaled back.
But “even with mitigating strategies, we cannot guarantee that even the most mission-essential programs will not be put at risk under sequestration,” Haney said.
Haney added that other programs, not mentioned by Amos on Sept. 18, are also under review for reduction, elimination or restructuring, including auto skills shops, recreational swimming, outdoor recreation, clubs, Marine Corps Exchange operations, golf and more.
The courses of action under consideration include, but are not limited to: “right-sizing” current programs, based on their cash flow and the benefits they provide to the Marine community; establishing community partnerships; outsourcing; eliminating underutilized, unsustainable or irrelevant programs; and centralizing functions. “These transformation initiatives will begin to take effect in FY 14,” she said.
The programs were selected for review, Haney said, because unit commanders and enlisted leaders ranked them as having lower value to base residents than other services. Marine Corps Times previously reported that a number of Marine Corps installations had already added new fee schedules to public pools, privatized barber services and closed hobby shops in efforts to cut costs.
It’s not clear from Amos’s testimony what would precipitate cuts to child care services, or which other specific maintenance and support services may be on the chopping block. But the commandant’s indication that those programs are not safe may reveal that the effects of the sequester are more damaging than service experts predicted.
In an August interview with Military Times, principal director of military community and family policy Charles Milam indicated he didn’t think the sequester would go so far as to eliminate key base services.
“No one’s going in and saying we’re cutting child care, we’re cutting fitness programs ... At least, we haven’t heard any of that, and that would certainly be an area of concern,” he said.