The Real Reason Texas Restaurant Workers Can Get Free Childcare

Of all the places in the country, the Lone Star State doesn't necessarily come to mind as a champion of liberal policies like free family services. After all, Texas governor Greg Abbott banned local governments and schools from implementing mask or vaccine requirements this summer, even amid a local surge in COVID-19 cases of which he himself was a victim. This was two months after Abbott announced that Texas restaurant workers were no longer eligible for the federal unemployment benefit package that granted them an extra $300 a week.   

But surprisingly, thanks to the Service Industry Recovery Child Care program that launched last October, Eater reports that Texan parents who work in restaurants and meet certain income and work schedule criteria are eligible for free, state-sanctioned childcare. What's more, parents who qualify for the stipend get to choose any childcare provider licensed under the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

For an industry that, as Eater notes, tends to fall short of providing resources for working parents (such as parental and sick leave), the program lends a huge hand to employees with little ones. Since SIR's inception, 11,000 kids have received care. 

The $500 million program also benefits the most financially vulnerable of Texas' service-industry parents, as the earnings of households who apply mustn't exceed 75% of the state's median income. So, what prompted the historically conservative state to enact a program associated with social democracies? 

Quid pro quo

"This program is a way for the Texas Workforce Commission [...] and the YWCA to promote economic recovery and growth in the community," Sylvia Acosta, CEO of the local YWCA helping to manage these childcare services, says in an interview with El Paso Inc. "We know that we cannot do any of that without child care — it is foundational to allowing women to work, to allowing families to work. It is critical to stabilizing the economy."

A defining factor of this growth is the fact that, per Acosta, the childcare and service industries are overwhelmingly composed of women. She explains that, as both employees and caregivers, "women fundamentally are at the center of bringing this economy back." 

With childcare rates at an all-time high (Eater notes that "millions of Americans [pay] an average of $14,000, or as much as 20 percent of their salaries, in child care costs each year"), those who qualify for SIR (women and otherwise) can pick up more shifts without paying out-of-pocket for someone to watch their kid. This results in higher levels of income and, in turn, benefits the economy. 

Looking beyond the ways Texas may profit from SIR, Eater also cites a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that stresses long-term benefits for children whose families earn additional (read: not low) levels of income, including "better educational performance and attainment, higher earnings in adulthood, and better health." It may have been unexpected, but Texas has done right by working parents.