State Agencies Give Major Updates On DL Office Openings, Late Fees, Licensing, Payment Extensions, Grants, Jails

State Updates: childcare funding, waiving of late fees, extension of payment deadlines, testing in state hospitals, driver’s license office openings, jail visitation suspended, student aid grants…

EDITORIAL NOTE
The Coronavirus (COVID-19) is a very fluid situation, and it will continue to be. As new information becomes available from Hays County, the State of Texas and federal government agencies, we will publish those updates.

Hays County releases regular updates on the number of confirmed cases and other local statistics related to COVID-19.

On Monday, May 18, Governor Greg Abbott announced most Texas counties would begin phase 2 of his plan to reopen the Texas economy.

Via Executive Order, the following services and activities may open under Phase II.

  • Child Care Centers (May 18)
  • Massage and Personal-Care Centers (May 18)
  • Youth Clubs (May 18)
  • Rodeo and Equestrian Events (May 22)
  • Bowling Alleys, Bingo Halls, Simulcast Racing, and Skating Rinks (May 22)
  • Bars (May 22)
  • Aquariums and Natural Caverns (May 22)
  • Zoos (May 29)
  • Day Youth Camps (May 31)
  • Overnight Youth Camps (May 31)
  • Youth Sports (May 31)
  • Certain professional sports without in-person spectators (May 31)

All sporting and camp activities are required to adhere by special safety standards, and minimum standard health protocols have been established for all newly-announced open services and activities.

Businesses located in office buildings may also open but must limit their occupancy to the greater of 10 employees or 25% of their workforce.

Additionally, restaurants may expand their occupancy to 50% beginning May 22.

Bars—including wine tasting rooms, craft breweries, and similar businesses—may open at 25% occupancy but like restaurants, these occupancy limits do not apply to outdoor areas that maintain safe distancing among parties.

Opened services and activities under Phase II are subject to certain occupancy limits and health and safety protocols.

For details and a full list of guidelines, openings, and relevant dates, visit www.gov.texas.gov/opentexas.

Certain counties experiencing surges in COVID-19 cases will have their beginning date of Phase II delayed until May 29. These counties include El Paso, Randall, Potter, Moore, and Deaf Smith.

Child care centers across Texas re-open, funding returns to pre-pandemic levels

AUSTIN — The Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has begun phasing out the emergency program to subsidize childcare for Texas’ essential workers. This move comes the day after Gov. Greg Abbott announced that child care providers across the state could re-open.

Subsidies were put in place to assist both essential workers and child care centers during limited enrollment.

With Texas re-opening, those essential workers who are already on the subsidized plan will continue to receive child care for the three month period they were initially approved for under this program.

Essential workers who have yet to apply for subsidized care have until Wednesday, May 20, 2020, to do so. Essential workers may also apply at any time for TWC’s regular subsidized child care program for low-income families if they meet eligibility requirements.

In March, TWC commissioners authorized $200 million to Local Workforce Development Boards to subsidize three months of child care for essential workers, and to support the higher costs of child care during COVID as a result of smaller class sizes.

This effort aimed to help ensure that essential workers, who hadn’t planned for child care needs during regular public school days, had access to this critical support service to ensure that they could continue to work and support the COVID recovery needs.

And it was aimed at supporting child care providers whose cost of care increased as a result of smaller class sizes in effect during COVID.

In March, TWC commissioners also authorized payments to child care providers to continue even when subsidized children were absent. And effective April 1, TWC waived the Parents’ Share of Cost (PSOC) for At-Risk Child Care. By doing so, TWC effectively paid 100 percent of the cost to providers even while children were absent.

This short-term measure was put into place to ensure child care centers continued to receive full reimbursement, as parents would not pay their portion while their children were absent. 

Effective June 1, TWC will reinstate the requirement for parents receiving financial assistance to pay for a portion of their costs.

  • As children return to their centers, parents will resume paying their share of child care costs.
  • TWC also continues to pay providers when children are absent and is paying a 25% enhanced reimbursement rate over and above what they regularly receive.
  • If parents are unable to meet this financial obligation, costs may be waived.
  • In May, TWC also approved funding to help closed child care providers who were previously serving subsidized children.  TWC is offering Stabilization Grants for closed providers to help defray some of their ongoing fixed costs in order to help them remain viable so they may eventually reopen.

Those in need of assistance should contact their local Workforce Board for more information on child care options in their area as well as to find information on financial assistance. Please visit the TWC Child Care webpage or contact your local Workforce Board.

Governor Abbott Waives Late Fees For TABC License And Permit Renewals

AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott has allowed Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) license and permit renewals to occur after the current 30 day grace period after an expiration date without any late fees.

This waiver applies to renewals with an expiration date on or after March 13, 2020.

“As we continue to safely and strategically open the state of Texas, we want to ensure financial barriers are removed for businesses that plan to open up to the public,” said Governor Abbott. “By granting an extended renewal period and waiving license and permit renewal late fees, we are ensuring Texas entrepreneurs and business owners are supported as we kick-start our economy and continue to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Governor Abbott Announces Extensions To Payment Deadlines For Certain Employers

AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott today announced that the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) has extended payment deadlines for designated reimbursing employers that are required to pay a share of unemployment benefits.

Designated reimbursing employers include non-profits, local governments, school districts, and other qualifying employers who reimburse TWC for the full amount of unemployment benefits to be paid to eligible former employees.

TWC’s action delays the due date for the June 1 payment to December 31, 2020.  This action also waives interest and penalty charges during the same time period and does not reduce or eliminate this payment for reimbursing employers.

Instead, it provides more time for these employers to secure resources to meet these and other liabilities as they deal with the implications of COVID-19.

This extension also does not delay or prevent Texans who qualify for unemployment benefits from receiving these resources.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented economic challenges, and the State of Texas is committed to helping both employers and Texans who have lost their jobs through this challenge,” said Governor Abbott. “This payment extension will help these employers address financial setbacks due to COVID-19 and provide them more time to pay their share of unemployment benefits. As Texas continues to respond to COVID-19, we are committed to ensuring employers across the state have the resources they need to recover.” 

Governor Abbott Directs HHSC To Expand COVID-19 Testing To All State Hospitals, State Supported Living Centers

 AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott today directed the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) to expand COVID-19 testing to all patients, residents, and staff at the 23 state-operated inpatient psychiatric hospitals and living centers throughout Texas.

“By expanding widespread COVID-19 testing to our state hospitals and state-supported living centers, we are better equipped to identify and mitigate these potential hot spots and protect our most vulnerable populations,” said Governor Abbott. “I thank HHSC for their ongoing partnership to provide more testing at these facilities across the state.”

HHSC operates 13 state-supported living centers (SSLCs) that provide 24-hour residential care, medical services, and vocational training for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The agency also operates 10 state hospitals that provide acute inpatient psychiatric care for adults, children, and adolescents.

“Many patients and residents in our care are medically fragile and rely on our frontline healthcare heroes for the important care they receive. By expanding testing to everyone in our facilities, we will increase our ability to further protect everyone who lives and works in our facilities and prevent the spread of the virus throughout our system,” said HHS Executive Commissioner Phil Wilson.

This announcement expands testing to all patients, residents, and staff to further assess the scope and extent of possible infections at facilities statewide.

Previously, residents and patients were tested if they displayed symptoms of COVID-19 or had possible exposure to the virus. The new round of testing will cover those who have shown no signs of COVID-19 or have not been tested within the last 30 days.

HHSC is working with the Texas Department of State Health Services to expand testing for the 4,700 patients and residents as well as 18,000 employees at the SSLCs and state hospitals. Testing kits are already making their way to the facilities and several local health departments have offered their assistance.

As of May 20, a total of 161 patients and residents have tested positive for COVID-19. Of those, 107 individuals have recovered from the virus and fewer than 10 residents and/or patients have died. The latest aggregate data on COVID-19 cases at state hospitals and SSLCs can be found here.

All facilities continue to follow strict adherence to CDC guidelines in place to protect the health and safety of residents, patients, and staff. All staff wear masks and are trained in infection control procedures, proper use of personal protective equipment, and social distancing measures.

Visitor restrictions to state hospitals and SSLCs remain in place and HHSC continues to screen all employees for fever and respiratory illness prior to entering its facilities. Any person with a fever or unexplained signs of respiratory illness is not allowed entrance to HHSC facilities.

For more information about the care provided at state hospitals and SSLCs, click here

Driver License Offices to Reopen by Appointment Only with Limited Services, Additional Safety Measures Enacted

AUSTIN – On Tuesday, May 26, at the direction of Governor Greg Abbott, the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) will begin reopening driver license (DL) offices by appointment only and with limited services.

The reopening of DL offices will happen in a phased approach, in order to allow DPS to keep customers and our staff as safe as possible, while also adhering to new safety guidelines and social distancing practices in place due to COVID-19.

Appointment availability will be rolled out in phases, with the first phase of appointments becoming available on Friday, May 22, at 1 p.m.

Services Available By Appointment Only

A new appointment solution, which has been in the works for several months, will take effect in DL offices as they reopen.

The appointment solution allows customers to book appointments for a specific day and time up to six months in advance.

DPS is moving to appointments only as part of our efforts to provide additional convenience and reduce the time Texans spend waiting in line at DL offices.

Within the new online appointment system, customers can walk through the available appointment options, schedule appointments on a specific date and time, receive appointment confirmations, set up a reminder, and reschedule or cancel an existing appointment.

Once customers schedule their appointment, they’ll receive a confirmation email to bring with them to their appointment.

Upon arrival at the DL office, customers can check-in with their smart device or by using the kiosk inside the office.

Due to social distancing requirements related to COVID-19, we are asking that customers wait in their car after checking in. Customers will receive a text message when it’s time to come inside to complete their transaction.

Limited Service Offerings, PHASED REOPENING

As DL offices begin their phased reopening, services will be limited to customers with appointments only who are seeking a first-time Texas DL, commercial driver license (CDL), learner license or identification (ID) card, as well as those who need to take a driving test. These will be the ONLY services available at DL offices during these initial phases of reopening.

Phase 1
Offices in DPS’ Northwest and West Texas regions will reopen with limited services beginning May 26, 2020.
Customers can begin scheduling appointments in these two regions on May 22 at 1 PM.

Phase 2
Offices in DPS’ South and Central Texas regions will reopen with limited services beginning May 29, 2020.
Customers can begin scheduling appointments in these two regions on May 26 at 1 PM.

Phase 3
Offices in DPS’ North and Southeast Texas regions will reopen with limited services beginning June 3, 2020.
Customers can begin scheduling appointments in these two regions on May 29 at 1 PM.

Phase 4
Will allow customers to schedule an appointment for all DL office transactions anywhere in the state.
DPS expects to begin mid-summer and plans to will announce details on this phase at a later date.

As appointments become available throughout the phased reopening plan, customers will be able to book appointments through the DPS website at www.dps.texas.gov/DriverLicense/.

Safety Measures for Reopening

DPS is taking extensive measures to limit the spread of COVID-19 and ensure customers and staff are as safe as possible during DL transactions. The following safety measures will be in place as DL offices reopen:

  • All staff members and customers who are taking a driving test will be required to wear face masks or facial coverings.
  • Every person (staff members and customers) will be screened for symptoms prior to coming into a DL office; this includes having their temperature checked.
  • Customers may be asked to reschedule their appointment if they do not pass the safety screening.
  • Only actual customers will be allowed into DL offices. This will help limit capacity and ensure everyone can maintain a safe social distance. Exceptions include persons needing ADA accommodations; elderly persons; parents with small children; and parents and legal guardians needed to complete a transaction.
  • DPS staff will sanitize workstations and equipment between each customer transaction.
  • Eye examinations will no longer require physical contact with an eye testing machine.
  • Customers must pay with a credit card, check, or money order. NO CASH PAYMENTS.

EXTENSION REMAINS IN PLACE FOR EXPIRED CARDS

As a reminder, the extension of the expiration of Texas DL/CDL/ID/Election Identification Certificate (EIC) cards remains in effect.

This means that all Texas DL/CDL/ID/EIC cards that expired on or after March 13, 2020, fall under the period that encompasses the State of Disaster Declaration related to COVID-19 and will remain valid for 60 days after which time DPS will issue a public notice that the extension period has been lifted and all normal operations have resumed.

As of this release, that 60-day period has not begun. Due to the extension still being active, appointments for renewals will not be available until further notice.

Governor Abbott Issues Executive Order Suspending In-Person Visitations In County And Municipal Jails

AUSTIN – Governor Greg Abbott today issued an Executive Order suspending in-person visitations in all county and municipal jails in the state of Texas. This restriction does not apply to visitation by an attorney meeting with a client or a religious leader or member of the clergy.

The Governor previously directed state prisons, jails, and juvenile justice facilities to restrict visitation upon issuing his COVID-19 disaster declaration. This executive order adds another layer of defense to contain COVID-19 hot spots, prevent community spread, and protect staff and inmates.

“Jails have shown to be highly susceptible to COVID-19 surges which is why we are focused on containing any potential hot spots and preventing spread both within jails and the community,” said Governor Abbott. “I encourage jails to utilize virtual visitation strategies to allow for visitations in a way that protects both staff and the inmate population. The State of Texas is committed to keeping all Texans safe, protecting our most vulnerable populations, and mitigating the spread of COVID-19 throughout the Lone Star State.”

View the Governor’s Executive Order.

Governor’s Committee On People With Disabilities Announces 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Award Winners

AUSTIN – The Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities (GCPD) today announced the winners of the 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards for media content created in 2019.

Established in 1982, the Barbara Jordan Media Awards recognize the respectful, accurate portrayal of people with disabilities by media professionals and students.

In response to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic, GCPD, and their partners at the Texas A&M University Department of Communication, Journalism Studies created a virtual awards program honoring the winners and highlighting their outstanding work.

The winners of the 2020 Barbara Jordan Media Awards are…

   College Broadcast Rebecca Sloane, The Battalion (College Station) Year Two: Signing the Midnight Yell

   College Print Magazine Sarah Hoenig, Insite Brazos Valley magazine (Bryan) Beep Baseball: Making Dreams Come True

   High School Documentary Eaglevision Film Productions, Lindale High School (Lindale) Students Miles Hill, Braulio Navarro, Lauren Knox, Jeffrey Ptak, Jude Ratcliff, and Ashlynn Brice Miniature Blessings: Where Community Meets the Classroom

   High School Journalism Jordan Ramsey and Jacob Choi, Eagle Nation Network, Prosper High School Run, Mabry, Run

   Photojournalism Lola Gómez, Austin American-Statesman Just Like Me

   Radio Podcast Shelly Brisbin, Relay FM (Austin) 36 Seconds That Changed Everything: How the iPhone Learned to Talk

   Radio Broadcast (Series) Laura Isensee, Houston Public Media Texas Students Fighting for Special Education Services

   Broadcast Feature Walt Maciborski, KEYE-TV (Austin) Game On!

   Broadcast Entertainment Teresa Woodard, WFAA-TV (Dallas) I’m Not Less: They have autism, and the video games they develop are hitting it big

   Print Feature Suzanne Garofalo, Houston Chronicle Daughter of the Water

   Print Profile Megan Rodriguez, The Bryan-College Station Eagle Bridget Frank: Facing challenges, pursuing her passion

   Print News Mary Huber, Austin American-Statesman The Long March to Healing: One soldier’s recovery after the Fort Hood shooting

   Print Magazine Britni McAshan, Texas Medical Center’s Pulse magazine (Houston) Shooting for Gold: An elite athlete sets her sights on the Paralympics

More information on the nomination process, along with past winners, can be found on the Barbara Jordan Media Awards page.

THECB, Greater Texas Foundation and Trellis Foundation award student emergency aid grants to 57 higher education institutions

Austin, Texas – The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, Texas Higher Education Foundation, Greater Texas Foundation, and Trellis Foundation announced that the Texas Emergency Aid Grant Program launched three weeks ago, has awarded 57 grants to Texas higher education institutions.

These include 29 community colleges, 16 public universities, and 12 independent, non-profit Texas institutions. The grants, totaling $710,000, support students across every region of the state during the COVID-19 crisis.

“I’m proud that together we are providing much-needed assistance to these Texas institutions and the more than 300,000 students they collectively serve across the state,” said Commissioner of Texas Higher Education Harrison Keller. “Throughout this process, institutions have shared with us the struggles their students are facing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some seeing dramatic increases in student emergency aid requests. I am grateful to our partners, including the Greater Texas Foundation and Trellis Foundation, for helping students stay on track to obtain high-value credentials. Looking ahead, we know that Texas graduates will play a critical role in the recovery of the Texas economy.”

Grant applications were received from 124 higher education institutions across Texas, requesting assistance for a variety of needs including food, housing, and technology support to help with the transition to online learning.

“Greater Texas Foundation’s mission centers on helping more Texas students earn postsecondary credentials. This fund is a critical resource for directing financial support to students impacted by COVID-19 so they can stay on track to achieve their educational goals,” said Greater Texas Foundation President and Chief Executive Officer Sue McMillin.

“Our Texas colleges and universities are playing a vital role in Texas’s recovery efforts,” said Trellis Foundation Executive Director Kristin Boyer. “We appreciate that so many of them are putting students at the center of these efforts, and we thank the Coordinating Board for stepping up to support them through the creation of this emergency fund.”

The Texas Higher Education Foundation serves as the fiscal agent for the Texas Emergency Aid Grant Program, working to identify additional sources of funds that may be used as a match to private philanthropic dollars, such as the anchor funding donations by GTF and Trellis of $500,000 and $200,000, respectively.

Individuals may join this effort by contributing online. Every additional dollar raised will help provide crucial resources to another institution and its students during this time of unprecedented need.

The goal of this public-private partnership is to continue raising money to support the state’s two- and four-year institutions with block grants of $10,000 to $30,000, depending on the size and needs of each institution and its student body.

These grants are designed to expand existing emergency aid programs offered by Texas higher education institutions and complement the federal funds provided by the CARES Act by providing resources for capacity-building support of emergency aid programs or through direct emergency student aid.

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