Internal investigators and congressional leaders expanded their review of a U.S. Army day care fee assistance program spotlighted by a recent News4 I-Team investigation.
The I-Team learned the General Services Administration Inspector General is reviewing whether a backlog of unreturned phone calls and emails from parents is growing inside the “Army Fee Assistance” program.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) also made formal requests for information about the length of the backlog from which the program is suffering. In a letter to program administrators, Sen. Casey also requested the agency detail steps it’s taking to provide payments promised to Army families.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said he too has made formal inquiries to the General Services Administration and U.S. Army. In a statement, Sen. Kaine said, “I am concerned with the reports of Army families experiencing delays in receiving childcare services.”
More than 30 U.S. Army families filed formal complaints about problems with the Army Fee Assistance program, which reimburses Army parents for the cost of using private day care services outside military posts. Those complaints, obtained in a public records request by News4, detail frustration with delayed payments and lost paperwork in the program, which is administered by the U.S. General Services Administration.
Internal audits show the Army Fee Assistance Program is suffering a backlog of more than 11,000 unreturned phone calls, emails and records requests. Some U.S. Army mothers, including two who spoke with the I-Team, said the program was months late in providing child care subsidies, causing deep financial problems for their families.
“They have failed our family. They’ve failed everybody that I’ve talked to,” said Karmon Dyches, a U.S. Army captain in Montgomery County. Dyches said child care subsidies for her daughter from the Army Fee Assistance Program have been delayed up to three months. Dyches said she and her husband have been forced to spend thousands of dollars out of pocket, while awaiting late payments from the federal government. Dyches said, "I’m pulling my hair out, everybody is really, really frustrated.”
The Army Fee Assistance Program serves Army families who cannot find daycare available on Army posts. The program allows those families to use private daycare services in nearby communities, then issues subsidies to those families to offset the cost of the private day care providers. Waiting lists are long and daycare slots are unavailable at some U.S. Army posts, families told the I-Team, requiring families to utilize the Army Fee Assistance Program to find child care services.
Kaela Hensley, whose husband is a U.S. Army employee in Maryland, said her child care subsidies were delayed five months. Hensley said, “We were pinching penny to penny every single month.”
Hensley and Dyches said they made daily phone calls and emails to federal program administrators trying to correct or complete applications. Their concerns are similar to those of other U.S. Army families, who filed formal complaints with internal auditors for the General Services Administration. Those complaints, obtained by the I-Team, detailed long waits and payments problems in the program. One family member wrote: “"I've sent many emails and made many phone calls and there have been no solutions.” Another program participant wrote, “It seems the GSA is way over its head trying to manage this program.”
In a report filed by the General Services Administration Inspector General in April, investigators reported a growing backlog of unreturned phone calls and emails to families who participate in the Army Fee Assitrance program. Inspector General investigator Patricia Sheehan said, “We’re very concerned about the backlog for families. We’re very concerned about the impact to families.”
A spokeswoman for the General Services Administration, in a statement to the I-Team, said the child care program is facing challenges. The U.S. Army recently asked the agency to expand the program, which the GSA has operated since 2003. The spokeswoman said, “The agency’s role in administering the program has expanded significantly within the past few months -- from processing applications for a few hundred families to almost 10,000, and from working with a few hundred childcare providers to more than 6,000.”
The agency hired additional contractors to help reduce the backlog.
The General Services Administration, its internal auditors and families said the program is complex. In many cases, investigators said paperwork errors or omissions by Army families are contributing to backlogs and payment delays.
The General Services Administration spokeswoman told the I-Team, “The application process is complex as families are required to submit detailed eligibility and financial information.” She said, “Some families experience certain issues that can complicate this process, issues such as changes in assignment, mission, income and school enrollment.”