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'This put my entire program at risk' | Child care provider says COVID-19 restrictions hurts her business and the Texas economy

Texas child care providers in our area cannot currently operate as usual. They can’t charge any rate nor can they accept any child due to COVID-19 restrictions.

When Texas told child care providers they were needed to help take care of children for our essential workers and offered to pay for it, Heather Torres rejoiced.

"I thought that was great so I passed all that information to my parents," said Torres, Executive Director of Hope Lutheran Learning Center.

Her center is one of more than 5,200 state-licensed centers and one of more than 11,000 child care operations who can care for children of essential workers.

"We're putting our lives on the line," said Torres. "We can't really explain to a 2-year-old, 'Bud, there's a pandemic. We need you to take six steps back.' Yeah, that’s just not reality.” 

April 10th, Gov. Greg Abbott announced a website to help essential workers find and pay for child care services. 

Shortly after, Torres stopped rejoicing and started sounding the alarm.

The state money provided for essential worker child care doesn’t match what the learning center normally charges for care.

Torres has no way to close the gap.

So, she called the Texas Workforce Commission, who oversees the payments from the state.

Back on April 28th, commissioners unanimously agreed to waive the following: 

 • §809.92(c) to allow providers to charge the difference to protective services families that qualify as COVID-19 Frontline Essential Workers

• §809.13(c)(11) to allow for a statewide policy for providers charging the difference 26 for COVID-19 Frontline Essential Workers who were previously private-pay 

The final approval comes from the Governor’s Office but that hasn’t happened.

"This put my entire program at risk along with other centers across the state," said Torres to the TWC Commission May 10th.

"These essential worker parents who are still receiving their full paychecks were not allowed to pay the difference of $35 per week," said Torres.

 She said it adds up to thousands of dollars lost per month.

“My parents have told me as soon as you're allowed to. We will be more than willing to pay,” said Torres.

On top of this, Torres still can’t take children from non-essential employees.

That, too, is the governor’s call.

"Nail salons, movie theater managers, or workers, as they're called back to work and we can't care for them... they can’t work and legally they can collect unemployment because they don't have child care," said Torres.

The Governor’s Office did not respond to our emails.

Texas Health and Human Services oversees all child care facilities. They sent the following statement:

“Currently, child care operations in Texas are only allowed to serve children of essential workers. The Governor’s Strike Team will recommend re-opening based on public health criteria and their medical expertise. We are working closely with the Governor’s office, Texas Workforce Commission and other agencies to develop a plan to enable child care operations to serve children of additional workers.”

No details released regarding the public health criteria that will help determine their decision.

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