A child care provider at a development center reads a story to children April 11, 2023, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan.

A child care provider at a development center reads a story to children April 11, 2023, at McConnell Air Force Base, Kan. (Felicia Przydzial/U.S. Air Force)

WASHINGTON — Hundreds of thousands of American troops will be able to open flexible spending accounts beginning next year to help pay for child care and other dependent services, the Pentagon said Thursday.

Finding and affording on-base child care has been a major issue for military families in recent years, especially in locations that don’t have enough qualified providers. In many cases, families have been placed on lengthy waiting lists for services.

“Access to affordable, reliable and high-quality dependent care is a crucial component of financial and overall military readiness,” Gilbert Cisneros, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said in a memo that announced the expansion of Dependent Care Flexible Spending Accounts.

Beginning in November, eligible troops will be able to sign up for the accounts, or DCFSAs, and can contribute as much as $5,000 per year. The money will be automatically deducted from troops’ pay to go toward child care such as preschool, summer day camp and before- or after-school programs. The DCFSAs can be used only to care for children younger than 13. However, service members also can use the money to care for adult dependents of any age who are “mentally or physically incapable” of caring for themselves, officials said.

The accounts are available only to active-duty troops and those in the National Guard or Reserve serving on Title 10 orders, which means they have been ordered to active duty by the president of the United States. The accounts are not available to Guard or Reserve troops under Title 32 orders or members of the Coast Guard. It’s possible, however, that the Pentagon might expand DCFSAs to include more troops in the future, officials said.

“These accounts are a key part of the department’s ‘Taking Care of Our People’ initiative,” DCFSA Executive Director Jennifer Walker said. “A service member can lower their taxable income … [and] this can result in more money in their pocket, more take-home pay.”

The Defense Department said about 400,000 service members will be eligible for the flexible spending accounts, which have been available to civilian DOD workers for months.

“The funds that are contributed — up to $5,000 per family, or as little as $100 — are not subject to any payroll taxes,” Walker said. “Service members will be able to enroll starting in mid-November through mid-December.”

Troops who sign up during the upcoming enrollment period will be able to access the flex spending accounts on Jan. 1, officials said. Troops also can enroll outside the regular period if there’s a “qualifying life event” such as the birth of a child, a death in the family, a divorce or a permanent change of station. Under the program, service members will file claims through the Federal Flexible Spending Account Program website,, which then can pay the provider directly or reimburse money already spent on a service.

The lack of affordable child care is an issue that often comes up when defense leaders ask military families to voice some of their top concerns. When Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin traveled to Fort Liberty, N.C., in May, he spoke with families who voiced immense frustration with finding and keeping military-certified child care that’s affordable. A central part of the problem for some is there aren't enough providers on base, which leaves families only one option: finding private, and more expensive, child care off the base.

The Pentagon has taken some action in recent months to ease the problem. In December, it authorized higher rates for on-base providers as an incentive to keep them from leaving. It also raised a child care subsidy available to military families from $1,500 to $1,700 per child, per month.

“Helping families afford care for their loved ones while pursuing their career goals supports the economic well-being of families and a mission-ready force," said Ashish Vazirani, deputy undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.

The Pentagon has been studying DCFSA expansion for nearly a year and decided to approve it in March. Three months later, President Joe Biden ordered active-duty troops have access to the accounts no later than Jan. 1.

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Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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