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Shaheen Leads NH & ME Senators in Call to DOD on Childcare Issues at Shipyard

(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee and co-chair of the Senate Navy Caucus, led a letter to Deputy Secretary of Defense Katherine Hicks on Friday with Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Susan Collins (R-ME) and Angus King (I-ME), expressing concern about the childcare center prioritization policy, specifically regarding the impact of that policy on civilian families who were recently displaced from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s (PNSY) childcare center. In the letter, the Senators requested immediate action to address provider shortfalls and assist impacted families.   


The Senators wrote, “The center accommodates families from multiple services including Navy, Army and Air Force, as well as DoD civilian employees who are invaluable contributors to the important work being done at PNSY on behalf of the nation. While we understand the childcare capacity issues DoD is facing, it is simply unacceptable to displace families from DoD childcare centers without facilitating a seamless and equitable transition of care to an alternative center. Given the significant resources the Department has at its disposal and proactive stance to submit reprogramming requests to the Congress for mid-year ‘fact of life’ issues, we urge the Department to provide additional resources for childcare for Portsmouth Naval Shipyard employees as well as other affected childcare centers.” 


In June of this year, the Department of Defense (DoD) announced revised supplanting regulations that adversely impacted DoD civilian families utilizing PNSY’s childcare center. The subsequent decision by the Navy forced several dozen DoD civilian families to obtain alternative childcare facilities off-base. Affected families were only given a 45-day notice of their displacement and inadequate support to locate new accommodations for their childcare needs, leaving civilian families scrambling to care for their children. Although the Navy provided some assistance to help impacted families identify New Hampshire and Maine accredited childcare providers, many of these are already at capacity, not conveniently located or overly expensive for the affected families to afford.  


The Senators continued, “The Navy’s efforts to mitigate the impact on displaced families has fallen short of what we owe our invaluable civilian workforce. The impact of this decision and the subsequent displacement of civilian families not only harms civilian workforce readiness but also further impairs recruiting and retention, which have been longstanding challenges for our public shipyards. Reliable childcare is a strong incentive to work at PNSY, and everything should be done to increase capacity on installations and implement programs to secure commensurately affordable childcare in the community for families that are unable to use on-base childcare services.” 


The Senators closed their letter by urging DoD to prioritize long-term staffing, resource and facility plans that will provide the childcare necessary to meet the increasing demand in the region. They also requested that the Department do everything in its power to streamline hiring processes for qualified direct-care staff to swiftly address this issue, and to work with states to ensure that all available federal childcare support funding is fully, effectively and efficiently utilized. Finally, the Senators requested a briefing on the Navy’s response plans to address acute childcare challenges at the Shipyard and long-term plans to meet childcare needs in the area. 


Their letter can be read in full here


Senator Shaheen is a strong advocate for Shipyard workers. Senator Shaheen previously led the New Hampshire and Maine Congressional Delegations in a letter to DoD expressing concern with an updated policy that reduced the paid administrative leave options available to public Shipyard workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, she has annually advocated for millions of dollars in funding for submarine workforce development training. In a government funding proposal released by Senate Democrats on the Appropriations Committee last week, Shaheen included $2.5 million in congressional directed spending to begin construction of a new child development center at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire that would provide childcare services for both the New Hampshire National Guard and the Shipyard.