HOUSTON - As businesses start to re-open, many workers say they're worried about returning to work. Many don't have child care or fear they'll catch COVID-19 on the job.
Governor Abbott just announced unemployment benefits will continue for workers is some situations.
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Normally, turning down work can disqualify you for unemployment benefits. But Governor Abbott has announced the Texas Workforce Commission will continue benefits for workers who can't return for the following reasons:
• At High Risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
• Household member at high risk: People 65 years or older are at a higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19.
• Diagnosed with COVID: The individual has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered.
• Family member with COVID: Anybody in the household has tested positive for COVID-19 by a source authorized by the State of Texas and is not recovered and 14 days have not yet passed.
• Quarantined: Individual is currently in 14-day quarantine due to close contact exposure to COVID-19.
• Child care: Child’s school or daycare closed and no alternatives are available.
Any other situation will be subject to a case-by-case review by TWC based on individual circumstances.
"There's a lot of fear, real fear for what it would mean to bring this illness to their home, if they have an elderly parent at home, if they have children at home," said Elsa Caballero, President of the Service Employees International Union of Texas.
It's a serious concern for many of the healthcare, airport, and janitorial workers the SEIU represents.
"A lot of contractors are not even prepared to give us a plan of how they're going to bring people back. Do they have enough protective PPE?" she said.
TWC Executive Director Ed Cerna says it will not cut off unemployment benefits for workers who don't feel safe returning to work if that employer is not following safety guidelines.
"There are probably going to be some categories that say if these conditions exist, that mostly revolve around health and safety of course, if these conditions exist, you won't automatically be disqualified for unemployment assistance," said Cerna.
Cerna said they will rely on local agencies, such as Health Departments, for information on businesses not following safety guidelines.
"We'll rely on local resources for that. We understand several local authorities will be doing that anyway," said Cerna.
Another big worry for workers is a lack of childcare while schools are closed.
"We haven't set up any structure yet to allow that parent to have good, safe child care. There's no school at this moment," said Caballero.
Cerna said a lack of child care, or caring for someone who has COVID-19, will be considered reasons to maintain unemployment benefits.
But while workers may still collect unemployment benefits for a while, they fear losing their jobs altogether if they don't report to work.
"A lot of contractors are telling them right now if they don't come back to work, they won't hold their positions," said Caballero.
After increasing call centers and web server capacity, the TWC says it has now processed 2 million unemployment claims since March 8th.
Cerna says they're now setting up another way for those who still can't get through to contact them.