A new Navy proposal could double the maternity leave for all service members while extending hours at Navy and Marine Corps childcare centers across those services, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced Wednesday.
The maternity proposal would extend federally mandated paid maternity leave for troops from six weeks to 12 weeks and would require Congressional approval, Mabus said during a speech at the U.S. Navy Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Unlike the 10 days of military paternity leave, which is given at commanders' discretion, the extended maternity leave policy would be unavoidable if put into law.
"As a forward deployed force, our optempo is very high at sea and ashore," Mabus said. "So we've got to take a holistic approach to supporting families."
If passed into law, the change would impact all troops regardless of service, according to the Associated press.
It would impact birth mothers, but not adoptive parents. Adoption leave, which is also considered non-chargeable, is currently 21 days for both male and female sailors and Marines.
Non-military federal workers are entitled to six weeks of paid maternity leave with an additional six unpaid.
Mabus said the Navy and Marine Corps will also immediately be extending open hours at Child Development Centers (CDC) worldwide by two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening as part of an effort to better support families.
"What that ought to mean is that sailors don't have to worry about child care centers not opening early enough or closing too early," Mabus said.
The Navy currently operates a handful of CDCs that are open for 24 hours a day, seven days a week in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area, San Diego, California area and in Hawaii. Many other centers are typically open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Under the extension plan, those centers would open at 4 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
Childcare center fees across the DoD are based on total household income, not hours of use. Troops with a household income below $30,466 pay $57 per week for one child at a military CDC while a household with income between $59,842 and $76,162 pays more than twice that.
It was not immediately clear how much the maternity leave change or the extension of CDC hours would cost the Defense Department.
The maternity leave proposal and child care changes were part of a series of announcements from Mabus impacting woman in the Navy and Marine Corps. Among the other plans were changes in uniforms, co-location of dual-military sailors and Marines and sexual assault support.
"We need more women – we need more women in the Navy and Marine Corps, not simply to have more women but because a more diverse force is a stronger force," he said.
About 200,000 women currently serve in the active duty U.S. military as of late January, according to DoD statistics, with about 71,000 of those in the Navy and Marine Corps. About 91,000 of active duty female service members were married as of January, with about 27,000 of those in the Navy and Marine Corps.
-- Amy Bushatz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org