Motherly Collective

As Diaper Need Awareness Week closed out last week, U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) re-introduced the End Diaper Need Act of 2023, which among other provisions, would appropriate $200 million per year to be used to provide diapers and diapering supplies between 2024 to 2027 for low-income families.

Why is this news so important? It comes after this month’s U.S. Census Bureau announcement that child poverty more than doubled over the past year, shedding renewed light on the fact that poverty is a policy choice. Child poverty plunged in 2021, reaching its lowest level ever, largely due to the Biden Administration’s expanded Child Tax Credit. With the expiration of this and other forms of pandemic assistance, census figures now show child poverty is soaring again—back to unacceptable and entirely preventable levels. 

In 2022, nearly 9 million children—or 12.4% of all U.S. children—lived in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), more than double the number from the previous year, the largest annual increase in U.S. history.

Additionally, new research released this summer by the National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN) revealed a sharp increase in diaper need. The organization’s 2023 report found that nearly 1 in 2 families reported diaper need in 2023, up from approximately 1 in 3 in 2010.

Diaper insecurity is a major stressor for parents

It costs about $1,200 a year to diaper a baby, and most government programs don’t help parents with that expense. Unmet diaper need can worsen everything from children’s sleep to parental mental health. 

Children without enough clean, dry diapers suffer a higher incidence of rashes and urinary tract infections requiring medical attention. A pilot program in Connecticut found that the number one predictor of postpartum depressive symptoms is diaper insecurity. Over half of women interviewed by a researcher said getting diapers was their biggest stressor, more than paying for food, housing or electricity. It’s important to note that federal programs like SNAP and WIC cannot be used to purchase diapers.

Without enough diapers, parents are forced to leave babies in diapers longer than they should be and forced to use makeshift supplies like plastic bags and towels. Parenting an infant is hard enough. Imagine the constant reminder that you are unable to provide for your child. Infants require up to 10 diaper changes per day to stay dry and healthy. That’s 10 guilt-ridden moments in addition to witnessing all of the hours in between changes that your baby is uncomfortable or in pain because they’re sitting in a soiled diaper or have a rash or infection.

Even more, because most childcare programs require a supply of diapers in order for a child to attend, parents who cannot afford to buy diapers miss school or work—fueling the cycle of poverty. The NDBN research found that 25% of those experiencing diaper insecurity miss an average of five days of work each month—devastating financial harm for families already struggling.

It’s time we recognize this issue as a public health crisis that requires public investment and policy change.  While there are hundreds of diaper banks across the country, they are only able to serve less than 10% of children whose parents need help getting diapers, and many have months-long waiting lists. This problem cannot be solved by philanthropy alone. 

The good news is that Senators Cramer and Duckworth’s re-introduction of the End Diaper Need Act of 2023 show there are feasible, fiscally responsible solutions.

Supplying diapers lowers medical costs

At the state level, Tennessee’s Fiscal Year 2023-2024 budget includes first-of-its-kind legislation which will cover half the cost of diapers for the first two years of a baby’s life through the state’s TennCare Medicaid program. Pending approval from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, it is slated to go into effect in January 2024. This innovative approach will make buying diapers as convenient as buying over-the-counter drugs at participating pharmacies. Similarly, the Connecticut legislature is expected to move forward with a task force to study Medicaid coverage of diapers. 

Here’s the logic: Research shows that supplying diapers for children helps keep them healthy, which reduces medical costs. Additionally, a University of Connecticut study revealed an $11 rise in family income for every $1 invested in diaper aid—and increased income means both less reliance on social welfare programs and increased state and federal tax revenues. Plus, it’s cheaper to provide people with the essentials needed to thrive than to address the problems that arise when they are deprived. 

During the pandemic, Congress expanded resources to support families, and now those investments are waning. Tuesday’s Census release is a stark reminder that poverty is a policy choice. It’s also a hopeful example of the possibilities. The pandemic showed that we can create policies that help families, without compromising other societal needs. 

Every child deserves the basics they need to thrive—and diapers are just as essential as food, housing and health care. The time to end diaper need is now. Join Hello Bello in supporting the End Diaper Need Act of 2023 by signing our petition here

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