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Sunday, March 29, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Trump’s federal hiring freeze forces two Army bases to suspend child care services

By Vera Bergengruen Tribune News Service

WASHINGTON – Major U.S. Army bases at Fort Knox, Ky., and Wiesbaden, Germany, are shutting down child care and education services for military families due to President Donald Trump’s hiring freeze on federal workers.

Emily Bewley, whose family is stationed at the U.S. Army Garrison in Wiesbaden, was signing out the youngest of her four children from preschool on Tuesday when she found out that the program would be suspended in six days.

“When we went to pick her up from school they had a stack of memos they were handing out saying that because of the federal hiring freeze, the staffing shortage had gotten to a point where they were shuttering the programs,” said Bewley, whose husband is serving active duty in the U.S. Army. “There is a lot of upset, a lot of anger among the parents.”

The memo, signed by Wiesbaden commander Army Col. Todd Fish, said that the closure “is a result of staff shortage due to the Federal Hiring Freeze,” and that officials were taking the action “with deep regret.”

Families at the Fort Knox base were sent a letter Feb. 17 announcing that part-day child development centers on the base would be suspended, and no new children would be enrolled. The hourly child care program is also being suspended. Parents were given 10 days’ notice.

“Effective immediately, no new children will be enrolled in the CDC,” said the letter, signed by Army Col. Steve Aiton, the garrison commander at Fort Knox. “We are prevented from bringing new caregivers on board but are still having our usual staff turnover and illnesses, which creates challenges to maintaining ratios and providing quality child care.”

Following through on one of his campaign promises, Trump signed an executive order freezing all federal government hiring on Jan. 23, with exemptions for military personnel and those working in national security and public safety.

The extent to which the hiring freeze will affect child care programs at other military bases was unclear. It seems likely that more programs with high staff turnover will shut down, since they won’t be able to replace caregivers until the freeze is lifted. Several U.S. bases contacted, however, said they couldn’t respond immediately.

Closing the child care and youth programs may have a bigger effect on military bases abroad, where families rely on education programs they can’t find elsewhere. Even if the program is re-staffed in a few months, it will have an effect, Bewley said.

“It’s not like you can just go off post to find a similar program,” she said. “One of my neighbors’ sons is going to miss the rest of his preschool year, and he’ll have to start kindergarten lacking whatever skills he would develop.”

Military families abroad pay for accredited education programs on base, which feed into kindergarten and later schooling. These programs are highly popular and have long wait lists.

“President Trump should be embarrassed about the way his actions are impacting our men and women in uniform,” Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement Wednesday. “That hiring freeze has hurt military readiness and it is now hurting military families by depriving them of the support they need to do their jobs. This has to stop.”

When Trump signed the executive order, advocacy groups also raised concerns that the federal hiring freeze would disproportionately impact veterans, who receive preference in federal hiring. Veterans make up nearly one-third of all federal workers.

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