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FORT MEADE, Md. — Army Emergency Relief will begin providing up to $1,500 on Feb. 1 to help cover childcare costs for Soldiers and families who move to a new duty station.

The AER Childcare Assistance Program offers $500 per month for three consecutive months in a no-interest loan, grant or a combination of both based on financial need.

The program is intended to offset costs that arise when there’s no availability at on-post childcare facilities and more expensive civilian services are required.

The Army Fee Assistance Program currently gives Soldiers up to $1,500 per child each month for childcare, but Soldiers still pay an average of $275 on top of it, said retired Lt. Gen. Ray Mason, director of AER.

“That’s why we came up with the number of $500 per month per family to help them cover that out-of-pocket (expense), plus a little bit more,” he said.

After an audience member spoke of the issue at a senior leader family forum in February, Mason asked his team to research and create the program to address it.

“Right now the capacity for the on-post childcare facilities isn’t able to meet the demand,” he said. “The Army is looking at that, trying to figure out how they can expand. It’s not something where you can just snap your fingers. You have to build more capacity and then you have to hire more childcare providers.”

To qualify for the new program, Soldiers must be active duty or in the Active Guard Reserve and have permanent change-of-station orders to a location in the continental U.S.

Soldiers must also provide proof of their out-of-pocket childcare expenses and validate their financial need each month at their local AER office. The initial request should be submitted within the first 120 days after the family arrives to the new duty station.

The financial relief may even help some spouses quickly return to the workforce when they arrive to their new location, Mason said.

AER also now offers up to $2,500 to reimburse professional relicensing expenses for spouses who require them for jobs in another state.

“The employment of spouses is an important goal for the Army,” he said, “and we want to assist with that.”

AER has over 30 categories of assistance that provide about $70 million to 40,000 members of the Army team each year, he added.

That number includes $50 million in no-interest loans, $10 million in grants and another $10 million in scholarships for spouses and children. AER also has certified financial counselors to help Soldiers better manage their budgets.

“AER is not about the long term, providing a check every month,” Mason said. “We’re about helping people get over a bump in their life, get through a financial challenge and come out on the other end.”