By Debbie Gregory.
Soldiers and their families around the world will soon see the results of budget cuts in morale, welfare and recreation programs, including closures of some facilities, reduced operating hours and increased fees.
After years of warnings that major cuts were coming, officials with the Army’s Installation Management Command announced that the day has finally arrived.
“The bottom line is in fiscal year ’17, beginning in October, we’re going to have a little less money to put into our family Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR) programs than we have in previous years,” said Lt. Gen. Kenneth Dahl, head of Army Installation Management Command (IMCOM), which oversees family programs.
Army budget shortfalls have been covered through non-appropriated fund accounts, which are filled by sales and exchange dividends. Officials are implementing a $105 million cut — about 23 percent — in taxpayer funding for MWR for fiscal 2017, which starts October 1.
Child care centers and child and youth services programs are safe from cuts, but almost everything else is fair game.
To help garrison commanders and senior decide what to cut, the command has sent out a program priorities list known as the “bin chart,” officials said.
The chart lists programs in order of importance. Moderate and low priority programs, such as arts and crafts programs and spouse employment readiness services, are most at risk.
Programs at rural posts, such as Fort Greely, Alaska, and Fort Irwin, California, will be spared from the cut sheet because they are remote and isolated; there are no alternatives off the installation.
Dahl said he is asking commanders to use their knowledge about their own communities to guide which programs to reduce or eliminate.
“Which programs are most important? Which programs are least important? How can they mitigate it? Do they want to go with flexible hours? Do they want to integrate volunteers? Do they want to sustain these programs that are most important to the community by closing once a day or perhaps charging a fee or an additional fee,” he said.
As for the other service branches, Marine Corps spokeswoman Heather Hagan said that service doesn’t plan any reductions in MWR at this time, but they routinely assess MWR programs and services.
Navy officials don’t anticipate additional cuts to MWR programs in 2017, but they have been making adjustments and cuts to programs, eliminating most arts and crafts centers, auto skills centers and wood hobby shops, except in remote locations.
Information was not available from Air Force officials about whether their installations are facing impending cuts in MWR or family programs.