Texas pulls back on child care subsidies for essential workers, low-income parents

The University of Texas Child Development day care center in Austin on April 6, 2020. Eddie Gaspar/The Texas Tribune

The Texas Workforce Commission voted to pull back on child care subsidies for low-income parents and essential workers Tuesday as Gov. Greg Abbot launches phase two of the state's attempted economic jumpstart from coronavirus shutdowns.

Essential workers have through Wednesday to apply for state child care subsidies, and low-income parents must resume paying their share of subsidized child care as of June 1, the commission voted at its scheduled meeting. The vote came the day after Abbott ended the state's moratorium on child care for anyone other than children of essential workers, in order to allow parents to get back to their jobs.

The assistance was launched to help parents left without the means to afford child care as coronavirus devastated the economy and shuttered businesses across the state.

Now, essential workers, including grocery clerks and nurses, have just through Wednesday to apply for three months of subsidized child care, unless they qualify for other reasons. Those who are currently receiving subsidies can expect to finish out three months.

"Many essential workers who had kids in school hadn't planned or budgeted for child care for those months as those kids were already in school," said Reagan Miller, TWC's director of child care. "Child care was only authorized for each child for three months while they made arrangements for their longer term needs."

TWC had also decided in April to waive the required payment for low-income parents receiving state subsidies for child care, acknowledging that many were facing financial hardship. Those parents must now pay their share of child care costs, as of June 1.

The commission is also considering reinstating the work requirement for families receiving subsidized child care, depending on how unemployment changes as businesses reopen.

Abbott decided to reopen the economy as the number of coronavirus cases steadily increases and test numbers fall short of the state's own recommendations.

Advocates have warned that child care centers, already on shaky financial ground, will struggle to get back up and running while trying to meet stringent safety requirements. Already, 37% of licensed child care centers have closed since February.