WASHINGTON — Army officials have told base commanders to prepare for even deeper cuts in family support programs and other non-war-related expenses next fiscal year.

In June, the Army announced cuts in base discretionary spending and other non-war expenses to offset unexpected costs associated with military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even after Congress approved supplemental military funding in response, service officials said they would continue to curb spending.

And although the fiscal 2007 defense budget is still being debated in Congress, Army officials already have warned base commanders that they’ll likely face more belt tightening under next year’s budget because of the ongoing combat operations.

“The time of having as much money as bases want for everything they want to do is gone,” said Stephen Oertwig, spokesman for the Army Installation Management Agency. “We don’t know what the exact budget will be, but we know it will be a very austere budget.”

On Thursday, military family advocates warned that further cuts in vital family support programs could jeopardize military readiness by distracting soldiers.

“When families need these programs the most, they shouldn’t be asked to do without,” said Joyce Raezer, director of government relations for the National Military Family Association. “Those soldiers need to know that their families are being taken care of.”

The House Armed Service Committee’s ranking Democrat, Missouri’s Rep. Ike Skelton, said the Army received about $500 million less for base maintenance and programs this year because of the unexpected extra war costs.

Raezer said she’s already heard concerns from military spouses worldwide about the cuts. At Fort Bragg in North Carolina, families have seen cuts in staff at the base child-care facilities. At Fort Campbell in Kentucky, the hours and staff at the Family Readiness Assistance Center have been scaled back.

In Germany, several teen internship programs at Friedberg and Giessen Army facilities were canceled, leaving more than 40 dependents without planned summer jobs.

Raezer said other problems, such as shorter dining hall hours and part-time military spouses losing their on-base jobs, are widespread.

Oertwig said commanders have been open and honest with military families about the potential program cuts, to help them prepare for the changes.

“Our local commanders know what their audience needs, and it’s their job to balance the issues on a tight budget,” he said. “It’s not something that’s being ignored. All of our commanders are doing the best they can to take care of these families.”

House and Senate negotiators are currently finalizing the 2007 Defense budget and are expected to complete their work in the next few days.

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