Nisalee Mills would have been paying $1,200 a month on child care for her 7- and 3-year-old sons had it not been for a local program that covers 100% of those costs for one year. 

The free child care program, administered by Workforce Solutions Alamo, was designed to boost employment in restaurants, bars, hotels and retail stores by removing child care as a barrier for service industry workers.

The $43 million program called Service Industry Relief Childcare Funding is paid for by the Texas Workforce Commission with federal funding. Workforce Solutions Alamo is the local arm of the state workforce commission.

The deadline to enroll in the program is Wednesday. To apply, click here.

The program is open to service industry workers who require child care services in order to work. To qualify, they must work a minimum of 25 hours per week. Two-parent families must work a total of 50 hours a week, and the family income must be under 75% of the state median income. Children must be under 13 years of age, or under 19, if disabled to receive child care. Legal citizenship or immigration status is required, and families must reside within the 13-county area served by Workforce Solutions Alamo. 

Parents or guardians who work as actors, recreation attendants, fitness trainers, musicians, hotel or resort desk clerks, waiters, chefs, cashiers, customer service representatives and retail workers also qualify for the program. 

Since the program began in August 2021, 1,266 families participated in the program, according to Workforce Solutions Alamo, and 1,904 children have been enrolled into child care centers in the area. 

Mills, an H-E-B employee and single mother residing in Floresville, said that without help from the Service Industry Relief Childcare Funding, she would likely not be able to work due to high child care costs.

As a part of the program, Mills’ children attend a learning daycare center, where her older son can study while she is at work and the younger boy can prepare for pre-kindergarten. 

“I’m grateful,” Mills said. “Don’t be afraid to apply. Once that phone call came [notifying her she had been accepted into the program], it was relieving.”

The impact of the program on the industries it was designed to help isn’t yet known; Workforce Solutions Alamo is still awaiting the final results of a state report.

“This is a truly unique opportunity to provide no-cost child care to members of our community, and we encourage anyone who may be eligible to apply today,” said WSA spokeswoman Rachel Cochran.

Raquel Torres is the San Antonio Report's breaking news reporter. She previously worked at the Tyler Morning Telegraph and is a 2020 graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University.