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Help could be coming for military child care, thanks in part to Hampton Roads

By DAVE RESS | The Virginian-Pilot | Published: December 10, 2020

(Tribune News Service) — Seeing how near the waters of the Back River can come to North King Street and listening to how Virginia military families worry about finding child care have shaped the defense spending bill for fiscal year 2021.

Buried in the 4,500-page, $731.6 billion spending plan, which passed the House on Tuesday and is slated for a final vote in the Senate this week, are a series of policy directives that have their roots in Hampton Roads.

One, based on legislation that Senate Armed Services Committee member Tim Kaine and his Connecticut colleague Richard Blumenthal pushed, directs the Pentagon to identify additional benefits for defense department child-care employees to make sure base facilities are fully staffed.

“You can’t talk to military families anywhere in Virginia without hearing about the need for child care, especially now with COVID,” Kaine said.

Another policy directive authorizes the military to work on resilience projects — initiatives to deal with sea level rise and other environmental risks — even when those projects are outside an installation’s fence.

“There aren’t many installations more affected by sea level rise” than Hampton Roads’ bases, Kaine said. “Why wouldn’t you want the Navy base to be working with Norfolk public works to deal with flooding?”

The biggest item to emerge from the negotiations to resolve Senate and House differences over defense spending was agreement to fully fund a second Virginia-class submarine this year.

Agreeing to add $2.3 billion to double the Trump Administration’s requested funding would cover this year’s costs for the second submarine — and put dollars and cents to a policy directive in earlier NDAAs to maintain a two-boat-a-year schedule. Newport News Shipbuilding teams up with General Dynamics Electric Boat to build these submarines — “probably, if you asked the Navy to rank its most important vessels, the Virginia-class submarines would be at the top of the list,” Kaine said.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R- Westmoreland, who also serves on the House committee, said securing funds for a second Virginia-class submarine was paramount.

This year’s NDAA includes another shipyard directive — Kaine wants the Navy to provide twice-a-year updates on its shipyard infrastructure optimization plan. Last year’s act, at Kaine’s urging, directed the Navy to create the plan as part of an effort to boost investment in public yards, like Norfolk Naval Shipyard and cut delays in repairs and maintenance work.

“It’s a good plan,” Kaine said. “But every year we do a bill with thousands of pages, and a lot of directives and you’d just got to stay on top of them to be sure there’s follow up.”

Rep. Elaine Luria’s concerns about per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water are reflected in the NDAA’s authorization of $1.4 billion to take steps to protect military communities from those chemicals.

The Norfolk Democrat, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said she’s pleased the bill includes $494 million for the Little Creek-based Maritime Security Program.

She also convinced colleagues to approve changes to TRICARE to make sure that military families with special-needs dependents have access to the Extended Care Health Option (ECHO) program.

On Luria’s list of key issues, the NDAA also directs the Secretary of the Navy to review records of participants in the Seaman to Admiral program to make sure participants’ service time is properly recorded. It also includes a study on cancer cases and deaths among military aviators and support personnel to see if they are connected to exposure to cockpit radiation.

Wittman said he was pleased the NDAA includes his proposal for multi-year procurement of three smaller amphibious ships and one large deck amphibious ship.

He said that will save taxpayers roughly $1 billion.

Wittman is also happy that the NDAA includes his proposal for Department of Defense participation in wildlife conservation banking programs.

Rep. Robert C. Scott, D- Newport News, noted that the NDAA also specifically prohibits the retirement of aircraft carriers before their mid-life refueling, each of which is a multi-year, multi-billion-dollar project for Newport News Shipbuilding.

Scott, who is chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said it was important that the NDAA include funding for the Impact Aid program, which provides funding to school districts like most in Hampton Roads that are impacted by the loss of property taxes due because they host tax-exempt military installations.

In addition, the NDAA includes funds for several construction projects in Hampton Roads:

—$58 million for a Naval Special Warfare Group facility at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story

—$54.5 million for a Naval Special Warfare operations and command center at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story

—$30.4 million for a training facility for sailors working on the new E-2D Advanced Hawkeye early airborne warning system planes at Naval Station Norfolk

—$17.7 million for a corrosion control and paint facility for MH60 helicopters and CMV-22B Osprey vertical and short takeoff and landing aircraft at Naval Station Norfolk

$19.5 million for an access control point gate and land acquisition at Joint Base Langley-Eustis

$9.4 million for a submarine logistics support facility at Naval Station Norfolk

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