BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Close to 70,000 West Virginia children live in households where all parents work, according to data the West Virginia Center for Policy and Budget released in 2020.

For every available childcare provider, more than three children are waiting. Like those in most industries, Beckley daycare providers said, since the pandemic, finding workers is harder than ever.

“A few years ago, we did some demands on they needed to have some experience, they need to have some education,” reported Deborah Tyree, co-owner of Rising Stars Childcare, which operates four daycare centers in Raleigh County. “But, right now, we can’t even find someone off the street that will work more than a week at a time.”

Like most employers, daycare operators are paying higher salaries since COVID, using pandemic relief money the state allocated through Mountainheart, a nonprofit agency that disburses help with child care, based on income guidelines set by state lawmakers and administered by West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources.

But those COVID relief funds ended in October, and more cuts are expected in December and next year. Rising Stars Childcare paid around half a million in wages in 2019, according to Walter Tyree, Deborah’s husband and co-owner of Rising Stars. Now, they are paying over seven hundred thousand dollars, a price that could be impossible without the funds Covid relief provided.

“We was able to do that with the extra money Mountainheart provided us,” explained Walter. “But, if they go back to the old way of doing it, we don’t know if we’re going to survive.”

Providers said one solution, is for state lawmakers to expand income guidelines so more families qualify for Mountainheart, similar to what was done during Covid. If not, they said some daycares will be forced to close, which could be another blow to the state’s workforce participation rate.

“The jobs are going to go away,” Walter warned. “It’s going to make it harder for employers to find workers.”