JOINT BASE ANDREWS — U.S. Senator Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Congressman Anthony Brown (D-Md.) toured the Joint Base Andrews Child Development Center on Sept. 13 to hear the staff’s concerns following the cancellation of federal funding to rebuild their facility.
The Child Development Center received $13 million in federal funding to rebuild the aging and inadequate facility, which was set to begin in 2020. However, the project was recently canceled by the Trump Administration as funding was reallocated to fund the wall along the Mexican border.
“President (Donald) Trump, I believe unconstitutionally, used his powers to declare a national emergency to transfer appropriated monies from other accounts to build this wall,” Cardin said. “Now, recognize that Congress made the conscientious decision in regards to border security. There was nothing new between the time the president decided to use his emergency powers from when Congress specifically acted on this issue.”
The congressional branch determines the allocation of funds, and therefore, Trump is “directly contradicting the will of Congress,” Cardin said.
A total of $3.6 billion in military construction funding spanning across 127 projects nationally was diverted, Cardin said. The funding that was moved included three projects in Maryland; the construction of the Child Development Center and hazardous material pad at Joint Base Andrews and cantonment area road project at Fort Meade.
Led by Annette McLamb, child and youth services flight chief at the Child Development Center, Cardin and Brown walked through the facility. McLamb described the challenges they face during the tour, including lack of space and sewage leaks.
Originally built in 1941, The Child Development Center was a medical facility. Today, it contains four infant rooms, one room each for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds and 3 to 5-year-olds, McLamb said. She walked the government officials through the front lobby, which includes surveillance monitors of all of the playrooms, the kitchen and one of the playrooms where children happily greeted Cardin and Brown.
She showed a blueprint of the replacement facility which will be located closer to the center of the base and will be able to service a lot more children. Currently, the capacity of the facility is about 140, but they now serve 100 children. The new facility will allow them to increase their capacity to 168.
However, the Child Development Center has low ceilings and is dark, McLamb said. The kitchen especially is a source of grief for the staff as the stove contains eight burners, but the chefs can only use four. Cooking has become a slower process, and the old electric utilities cannot handle a newer stove.
Additionally, the bathrooms are prone to sewage leaks which get into the kitchen. Sometimes, the leaks force the staff to close down the kitchen and cook somewhere else as well as vacate some of the classrooms until it is cleaned up.
Despite its current problems, “we make the best of what we have,” McLamb said.
“You’re doing a fabulous job, what you’re doing for our children and everything, but it’s just old, and it’s not configured the way it should be,” Cardin said.
He later added that the HVAC of the facility is old, the pathway to the playground is unsafe, the current location is a security issue and part of the roof had collapsed in the past. Additionally, due to its present capacity, there is a long waitlist for parents to get their children into the Child Development Center. Some parents have decided to go off-base for another childcare service which can be up to $10,000 more expensive per year.
“Who is the face of the American taxpayer? It’s the children who we saw today who don’t have access to a modern, adequate child development center,” Brown said. “Yes, good things are happening in there, great teachers and administrators, it’s a wonderful environment for learning for those young kids, but they deserve better, their families deserve better.”
According to Cardin and Brown, congressional leaders are trying to reverse the funding decision. A budget agreement will be coming to the floor in the coming weeks which has “strong bipartisan support,” Cardin said. Additionally, they are looking at reducing the discretion of the president to make such decisions.
The Child Development Center, one of the highest priorities for the defense department and the Air Force, “needs to move forward,” Cardin said. The plans were all laid out, and the project was shovel ready. The hope is to get the funding back as soon as possible to prevent delays.
“We welcomed tens of thousands of military families and support personnel to Maryland, and we promised that we would ensure a quality of life,” Brown said.