By Carolyn Gusoff

VALLEY STREAM, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Child care has always been expensive, but the pandemic sent prices soaring and slots are harder than ever to find.

New York’s Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul says we’re in a child care crisis. She’s crisscrossing the state, sounding the alarm.

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As CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff reports, Wooden Shoe in Valley Stream was shuttered for months, and then reopened at half capacity. It’s among the child care centers that was forced to hike pricing.

“I have had many colleagues close their doors because they could not have staff come back, children didn’t come back, parents were frightened to send their children,” said owner Rosemarie Meyer.

The pandemic tightened the crunch. Two thirds of New Yorkers live in a so-called child care desert, with no nearby options.

A New York state task force report finds the cost is often out of reach. In New York state, it’s more expensive than public college, infant care, and more than average rent.

Michaelle Solages is a mother of three and member of the New York Assembly.

“It’s expensive, it’s hard to find a slot and we are worried not only will our child get, infected but bring that infection home,” she said.

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Hochul says child care is essential to the economic comeback.

“We had a crisis before the pandemic, and now it’s a crisis on steroids. It’s scary to see there are so many family who want to, who need to get back to work to support their families don’t have child care options,” Hochul said.

Hochul says it’s personal to her. Years ago, she left her job working for Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan because she had no one to watch her kids. The task force she co-chaired recommends higher wages as child care workers average only $27,000 a year, incentives for 24-hour child care, and business innovation.

“Do you have an incentive, an extra bonus in your pay package? Are you putting child care on site?” Hochul said.

She also wants child care to no longer be treated as a woman’s problem, but an urgent economic one.

“We can’t wait. We need the funds. We have exhausted out PPP, our economic disaster, personal loans,” Meyer said.

The report concludes that now is the time to build back New York’s child care system better. Decades of treating it as a private service rather than a public good has left the system teetering on collapse.

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New York state recently allocated an additional $35 million to assist day care centers in underserved communities.

Carolyn Gusoff