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Funding for Tonopah child care initiative could help get parents back to work

Nye County commissioners have allocated $300,000 in federal pandemic-relief grants to help launch a child care program in Tonopah.

The town currently has no licensed child care facility or after-school program. It’s a situation that became dire for many parents here during the height of the pandemic, as school and work schedules were constantly disrupted, forcing them to make difficult decisions.

Tonopah parents have largely relied on babysitters, juggled their kids’ needs with their work schedules — or dropped out of the workforce altogether to prioritize the needs of their families.

“It is difficult for parents to go back to work when there is no availability of child care,” said Stephani Elliott, the contract and grants manager for Nye County. “This has been a huge impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Tonopah.”

The earmark for the Tonopah child care initiative, approved in March, is part of the larger $350-billion American Rescue Plan Act spending package that federal lawmakers have allocated to help communities recover from the pandemic. Nye County will receive about $9 million as part of that package to support various projects, including public health responses and broadband and other infrastructure improvements.

While it’s premature to report specifics of the Tonopah child care initiative, Elliott hopes the money can be invested to help get parents there back to work.

“Availability of child care will help make that happen,” she said.

The dilemma

The absence of a licensed child care facility has been difficult for Tonopah parents and business owners, including Amber Carter, who owns Cre8 Salon in Tonopah.

“It has been hard not only for myself but for my employees to be able to work while having small children,” Carter said. “I am very fortunate that I’m able to work only a couple days a week so I can schedule my hours around if I have a babysitter or not.”

In a profession that encourages conversation, Carter hears the stories at her salon from many Tonopah residents.

“I have so many clients and friends that are really struggling with being able to keep their jobs due to the lack of child care in Tonopah,” she said. “Tonopah has a desperate need for a daycare and an after-school program.”

Between March and April 2020, 3.5 million mothers left their employment due to the pandemic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While unemployment rates have improved around the country, parents in Tonopah have limited options.

“My employees can’t work the hours they need to because they can’t find a steady babysitter, and my clients can’t come to my business because they don’t have somewhere for their kids to go,” Carter said.

Samantha Kimber, who also works at Cre8 Salon, is one of the parents experiencing the need for child care in town.

“I went from working 40 hours to probably 15-20 hours a week,” she said. “I just work around my mom and husband’s schedule for them to keep the kids while I work.”

Once county commissioners approve the grant policy, applications will be opened for prospective recipients.

Those interested in efforts to improve child care options in Tonopah should attend upcoming board meetings and comment publicly, Elliott said.

Potential applicants should have a complete plan in place and be prepared to present their ideas. Meetings take place on the first and third Tuesday of each month at 10 a.m. in Tonopah and Pahrump.

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