By Samantha Hawkins, Capital News Service
With sewage backups, flooding, mold and pests, and frequent Internet, phone, and air conditioning outages, Joint Base Andrews is in desperate need of a new childcare center.
Congress allocated $13 million to replace the deteriorating center, but last week the money was taken away and instead diverted to fund President Donald Trump’s border wall. The Andrews facility was one of 127 military construction projects that were cancelled or indefinitely delayed to provide $3.6 billion to 11 different border wall projects.
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Largo, Md.), hold media availability after touring the Child Development Center at Joint Base Andrews, which is slated to lose money under President Donald Trump’s plan to divert funds to the border wall with Mexico. (Photo by Heather Kim, Capital News Service)
Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), and Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Largo, Md.) toured the outdated building Sept. 13 — a 1941 medical facility — and were shown the blueprint and location for the much-anticipated new center.
“The location is there, the plans are there, it’s ready to go,” Cardin said. But, without money for a replacement facility, the Air Force fears the center won’t be able to get accredited.
“The people that work at these facilities, they’re doing the most important work in the country,” Cardin said. “But they deserve to have a facility in which they can keep their children safe, and have the best opportunity for early childhood education, which is critically important to a child’s growth.”
Military families rely on the center to take care of their kids, and when there isn’t enough room at the center, they are forced to find more expensive childcare outside of the base — the Air Force estimates each family that takes its kids to daycare off base spends an additional $9,400.
There are 200 kids currently on the wait list to get into the facility.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said on the Senate floor Sept. 12 that the money being taken away from fixing “awful conditions” at the childcare center would build only half a mile of the President’s border wall with Mexico.
Democrats have decried the plan, saying the President is forcing kids and military families to take a hit in order to fund a wall that the majority of the country doesn’t even want, according to a recent Gallup poll.
“Trump said Mexico is paying for the wall,” Brown said at Joint Base Andrews, “but military families are paying for the wall.”
Officials at the Pentagon released a list of the projects getting slashed, which includes projects in 23 states, 19 countries and three US territories. Other Maryland projects that had their funding stripped includes $37 million for a hazardous cargo pad at Joint Base Andrews and $16.5 million to fix roads and traffic congestion at Fort Meade.
“The wall is unnecessary, but even if you believe we need to build a wall this long, you should agree we do not need to be robbing monies out of the accounts of our servicemen and women,” Van Hollen said.
In February, Trump grudgingly accepted the $1.375 billion Congress approved to fund the border wall in order to end a 35-day government shutdown. But unable to get enough money to construct the wall, Trump declared a national emergency in order to access already appropriated funding without congressional approval.
Part of what critics call the “cash grab” to fund the wall includes diverting $2.5 billion from the Defense Department’s counter-drug activities and $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund.
About a half billion dollars was diverted from schools or childcare facilities.
Maryland Democrats said the diversion of funds jeopardizes national security.
“This is quality of life. Anytime you impact military quality of life, you jeopardize military readiness,” Brown said.
But the Democrats in the Maryland delegation say they are planning to fight the funding diversion in Congress by reducing the discretion a president has to redirect funds.
“With the number of states that were affected by this, we think we’re going to have strong bipartisan support to reverse what the President has done in regards to this money grab,” Cardin said.