RICHMOND, Va. -- When COVID-19 shut down the world in March 2020, Melissa Barlow left the workforce to stay home full-time with her daughter Anora.
To make ends meet, the single mom dug into her savings.
"I had to shut down the business [YourJoyfulSpace] for many months just because of COVID-19 restrictions," Barlow said.
When she tried to get back to work at her decluttering business, she struggled because she could not afford childcare.
"It was this equation I just could not quite figure out, it felt like this impossible conundrum," Barlow said.
Parents pay an average of nearly $1,200 per month for infant care in Virginia and roughly $900 per month for care for four-year-olds, according to the Economic Policy Institute.
Infant care in Virginia costs more per year than in-state tuition at a four-year-college in Virginia, according to the EPI.
And, consider this fact from the EPI: child care for two children, one of them an infant and the other a four-year-old, costs on average $24,929, which is roughly one third of a typical Virginia family's income.
"If I were to put her in the first of next month and immediately have a $1,200 bill, I wouldn't have the time to have acclimated and booked and pulled in enough business for that month in order to pay an extra $1,200," Barlow said.
Barlow tried to apply for the state childcare subsidy to help cover the cost, but she did not qualify at the time because she did not have a job.
"That is backward because how can you already have the full-time job unless you have help with care," Barlow said.
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam ended up temporarily relaxing that rule during COVID, but the change is not permanent.
Barlow said childcare should be a top political issue, but she has not seen it come up much in this year's Governor's race.
"The challenge is making childcare affordable is a very tough political issue," CBS 6 political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth said.
The CBS 6 Problem Solvers asked the Democrat and Republican candidates about their plans.
The Democratic Party's Candidate
Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic Party's candidate for Virginia governor, said raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour is a priority for him, which would raise the wage of childcare workers.
"[The cost] would most likely be passed on to parents and then they would have to pay more," CBS 6 Problem Solver said to McAuliffe.
"I disagree on the $15 minimum wage. We have got to join the rest of the country and pay our workers more. It's disgraceful," McAuliffe replied. "Ultimately if we're paying more, we lift people up. That will bring down the other costs that are associated with unemployment and everything else that is going on."
McAuliffe also said he would work to relax subsidy rules.
"I think that's very important that you be protected when you're looking for work because we want people back in the workforce as fast as possible," McAuliffe said.
And, explore ways to better leverage federal dollars.
"Are you considering subsidizing the cost for families at all?" Hipolit asked.
"Sure, I always put it on the table. It is too expensive. We want to get people back into the workforce. Employers need employees desperately. I would look at state resources being involved, bringing down more federal resources," McAuliffe replied.
The Republican Party's Candidate
Republican candidate Glenn Youngkin declined our request for an interview.
Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson Youngkin, said the candidate believed it was important for Virginians to have flexible childcare options.
Porter pointed to Youngkin's plan to support Virginia veterans that includes a childcare subsidy program for active-duty primary caregivers so that when they separate from service, there is no gap in childcare.
She said Youngkin would continue to implement the childcare subsidy program and work on providing Virginians with accessible and affordable childcare options.
"I believe what Youngkin would argue is his broad range of tax cuts he is supporting would make it easier for Virginia families to afford childcare," Dr. Holsworth said.
At the federal level, President Joe Biden wants to make preschool for three and four-year-olds free to everyone. He also wants to allow families to pay no more than seven percent of their income on childcare for kids under age five as part of his 1.8 trillion dollar American Families Plan.
But, Republicans have concerns about the price and scope of the proposal.
As for Barlow, since our interview, she was able to get Anora into a free pre-K program through Henrico County.
"For the first time in 4.5 years, I am suddenly available to work more than eight days a month. It's a game-changer," she said.
But because of her challenges, she now has some advice for others thinking about starting a family.
"I have friends who say we're thinking about having a child, and I immediately say who is going to watch them?" Barlow said.
CBS 6 Problem Solver Melissa Hipolit is taking an in-depth look at the topic of affordable childcare in Virginia, and she would love to hear from you about your concerns or ideas. You can reach her on Facebook or email.
Watch for Problem Solvers Investigations Tuesdays on CBS 6 News at 11 p.m. Click here for more of our investigations or to submit a tip to the Problem Solvers.
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