Workforce officials brace for job cuts

HARLINGEN — As more cities and schools shut down public buildings, some businesses are closing amid the coronavirus outbreak, prompting Rio Grande Valley Workforce officials to brace for a spiking jobless rate.

So far, Whataburger, Chick-fil-A and Starbucks have closed their dining areas, serving customers from their drive-through lanes.

“We are going to see some layoffs. That’s anticipated,” Frank Almaraz, chief executive officer with Hidalgo County Workforce Solutions, said Tuesday. “Even now, there are some closures, especially restaurants handling customers only in drive-throughs.”

Meanwhile, cities such as Port Isabel and San Benito have closed some public buildings.

On Tuesday, San Benito spokeswoman Martha McClain said officials are reassigning staff to other city departments.

On Tuesday, many Valley school districts announced plans to remain closed until March 30, when officials will consider reopening their campuses.

“It’s just getting messy,” Pat Hobbs, executive director of Cameron Workforce Solutions, said. “The cities and counties are closing things down. We don’t know yet what’s going to happen to the workforce but it’s not going to be pretty.”

Officials are monitoring national trends, noting many states are restricting restaurant operations.

“Across the county, restaurants and bars are closing. All those people are going to hit the streets,” Hobbs said. “Retail is one of our four big (industries) — the hospitality business. (Job losses) could be considerable.”

Funding child care

Hobbs said Workforce officials are considering subsidizing the child care program that oversees about 4,000 children while their parents work.

“Many parents are going to lose their employment. They’re not going to make payments,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs said Workforce officials are considering funding parents’ co-pays to help the program continue to take care of their children.

“They’ll still get the kids looked after while they look for another job,” he said.