Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional comment.
The Texas Workforce Commission voted Tuesday to begin phasing out temporary child care subsidy programs for low-income parents and essential workers started in response to the coronavirus pandemic, as Gov. Greg Abbott launches phase two of the state's attempted economic jump-start from coronavirus shutdowns.
A program that has been providing child care subsidies to essential workers will stop taking applications after Wednesday, and payments will continue for up to three months. A second program under which the state picked up the share of child care costs that low-income parents pay under normal circumstances when receiving state subsidies will end June 1.
The commission approved the changes at a scheduled meeting one day after Abbott reopened child care facilities for all parents. They had been limited to caring for children of essential workers.
The agency said it would continue to allow parents to apply to remain on unemployment if they cannot find child care.
“With child care facilities now being allowed to open, we would continue to take claimants at their word, absent facts to the contrary, and would review the work refusal around lack of child care to determine benefit eligibility," said Cisco Gamez, spokesperson for the Texas Workforce Commission, at a Wednesday media briefing.
Advocates warn that the decision about subsidies could decrease the number of parents using child care services and decimate child care businesses.
"Today’s decision to start pulling back financial support runs the risk of putting some child care providers out of business just as the state is trying to get them open," said David Feigen, policy associate for Texans Care for Children. "State leaders need to closely monitor the viability of child care providers and be prepared to provide additional federal dollars to keep them standing.”
The assistance was launched to help parents left without the means to afford child care as the coronavirus devastated the economy and shuttered businesses across the state.
Now essential workers, including grocery clerks and nurses, have until Wednesday to apply for three months of subsidized child care unless they qualify for other reasons. Those who are 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, the Texas Workforce Commissions'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 starting 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.
Clare Proctor contributed to this report.