On Monday, March 13, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) announced that a new statewide program will make it easier for military families to find and afford high-quality child care for their kids.

The new initiative, called Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood-PLUS, is a major expansion of an existing program and is funded and run by the US Department of Defense.

NC Human Services officials in the state say this is a “critical” service for North Carolina since it has the fourth largest military presence in the country.

Licensed child care programs can now participate in in the program based on their rating in the state’s quality rating and improvement program. This is an expansion of the existing program – Military Child Care in Your Neighborhood.  That service requires national accreditation from the US Department of Defense.

However, under the new “PLUS” program, child care providers can participate if they have a license rated 3-stars or higher on the state’s quality scale.

Right now, less than 300 child care providers participate in the original program –  but there are thousands of child care facilities rated 3-stars and higher in North Carolina so this expansion of the program will significantly increase the number of child care operations that participate in the military fee assistance program.

NCDHHS Secretary Kody Kinsley stated in press release announcing the expansion, “This program leverages the state’s commitment to building a high-quality early care and learning network that helps families raise capable children and build a stronger North Carolina. When we invest in families and children by expanding access to affordable, quality early care and learning, we gain overall in terms of better education, health and economic outcomes.”

The armed forces have a history of providing fee assistance to some military families to offset the cost of child care in community programs when on-base child care is unavailable. Of the nearly 68,000 children of active duty servicemembers in the state, about 43 percent are five years of age or younger.

Families that need to use community child care programs may be able to save hundreds of dollars on care since the current maximum benefit for the initiative is $1,700 per month/per child.