Maine and New Hampshire’s senate delegations are lobbying the Pentagon to make childcare services more available to families working at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan are asking the Department of Defense and Deputy Secretary of Defense Katherine Hicks to expand childcare, which has become less available following the coronavirus pandemic.

The request comes after reports that new guidance from the Defense Department in June led to dozens of shipyard employees losing access to childcare services, according to a statement from King and Collins.

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery employs about 8,000 civilians and 1,000 military personnel.

Among its services for families are a child development center for children ages six weeks through 5 years and a care program for students in grades K-12.

Lack of childcare has become a national problem.

According to a report released earlier this year from Child Care Aware of America, a nonprofit that studies national childcare issues, 8,899 childcare centers, or 9%, closed in 37 states between December 2019 and March 2021. 

In the same time period, 6,957 home-based childcare centers, or 10%, closed in 36 states. 

In Maine, the Anne E. Casey Foundation, which tracks data in individual states related to child welfare nationwide, reported that the number of licensed home-based family child care providers has dropped 33% from 2012 to 2021. 

Starting in December 2019, the foundation tracked an 11% decline in the number of such centers over two years. 

The number of larger, center-based child care providers increased from 2014 to 2019, but has stagnated since then, according to the foundation.

The senators asked the Defense Department to reconsider the cutbacks in childcare services, writing, in part: “While we understand the childcare capacity issues DoD [Department of Defense] is facing, it is simply unacceptable to displace families from DoD childcare centers without facilitating a seamless and equitable transition of care to an alternative center.”

The senators also requested a briefing on the Navy’s plans to address childcare issues at the shipyard.