If Parents Can't Afford Diapers, They Can't Go To Work Or Seek Childcare

by Karen Johnson
Originally Published: 
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Any parent, especially one living through the baby and toddler years, will tell you that the list of “essentials” includes as many non-food items as food items. Of course, breastmilk or formula is a must. Medications are essential, as are safe car seats and safe cribs for babies to sleep in. But nobody can parent a baby without diapers either. Cloth, reusable, or disposable, moms and dads need something to cover that baby bottom. Diapers are not a luxury; they are a necessity.

And yet, parents and babies across the country live in diaper-insecure homes—a problem that COVID has made even more dire.

“According to numbers from the National Diaper Bank Network and Huggies, 36 percent of American families experience diaper insecurity,” MSN reports. And the lack of diapers (or financial ability to buy diapers), leads parents to take often unsafe and unsanitary measures such as bleaching and reusing disposable diapers, keeping diapers on their babies for far too long, or sometimes use non-diaper materials for their infants.

Imagining a baby sitting in a soiled diaper for hours or even an extra day is heartbreaking, yet it happens all the time, when parents have no other choice.

MSN also says that “For a parent making minimum wage, anywhere from six to 14 percent of their income will go towards diapers — and most families who struggle with diaper security fall short by 20 diapers a month.”

A diaper shortage in the home means parents cannot go to work. It means the baby cannot go to daycare. And the extreme measures parents take when they don’t have diapers could lead to health problems for the child.

Also, if you’re a fan of buying diapers in bulk at stores like Sam’s Club or Costco, bear in mind that this isn’t a feasible option for poor families. Often the nearest bulk store is many miles away and inaccessible for many. And, the annual membership fee is unaffordable for a family who already can’t make ends meet.

As MSN explains, “The combination of irregular need and being cash poor leads poor parents to being unable to buy in bulk, so instead of being able to pay $20 for 100 diapers, which might last a few weeks, poor parents are forced to pay more for less, or run to a corner store to buy a handful of diapers because that’s all the cash they have on hand. Wealthy families get to go to Costco or Sam’s Club. Poor families can not.”

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Another issue across America is that unfortunately, many programs that do help families in need, such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), don’t cover diapers, as they qualify as “hygiene items” rather than “necessities.”

Also, to make matters worse, many food banks aren’t allowed to use their funding for diapers or other necessities that aren’t categorized as food.

So yes, for a myriad of reasons, diaper insecurity has long been an issue for poor Americans. And last March, when COVID hit, things got worse. Much worse.

For example, some programs like Early Head Start and Head Start do supply diapers for kids during the day, when the children are in their care, but the pandemic forced many centers to close their doors. So just like children relied on schools for free breakfast and lunches, parents who relied on Head Start for several diaper changes a day now must provide those necessities at home. Combine these new costs with a loss of income since so many are out of work, and it’s not hard to see why families of young children are in crisis.

Other parents, like Chelsea Murgatroyd of Austin, TX, had to close the doors to their small business and found themselves unable to provide essentials for their family, like diapers. The New York Times reports that Murgatroyd, 29, has a four-year-old and an eight-month-old and co-owned a carpet cleaning business with her husband that opened two years ago.

The article explains that the couple worked mostly with hotels, but quickly after the shutdowns happened, all their work was gone—which means their income was gone, too. Murgatroyd says she turned to the Austin Diaper Bank, but that it a hard thing to do. “We needed help. I have never used a charity in my life. That was very different and humbling for me.”

Samantha London, 32, is another parent who has experienced diaper insecurity. London is mom to a seven-year-old, five-year-old and four-month-old and lives in Brooklyn. Her preemie daughter spent time in the NICU, and after being discharged, London could not find diapers that fit her in nearby stores.

“When they tried to find [preemie diapers] online, companies were selling them at exorbitant prices they could not afford,” The New York Times explains. “London is not working right now, as she’s taking care of her baby and her children who are out of school; her husband’s job in construction has slowed down considerably, making their financial circumstances precarious.”

And because Murgatroyd and London’s families are among the 56 million Americans who have lost income due to this pandemic, places like diaper banks and food banks are needed now, more than ever.

“We’re at about a 300 percent increase to where we were last year in terms of families that need diapers, wipes and period supplies,” Holly McDaniel, the executive director of the Austin Diaper Bank, said last summer, when comparing pre-COVID numbers to the community’s pandemic needs.

And a Washington, D.C. diaper bank shares similar numbers. “In just 10 days, the diaper bank gave out more than 500,000 diapers – a 300% increase over what they normally see and nearly half their supply,” The Denver Channel reports.

That’s why leaders like Governor Cuomo of New York are establishing newer, broader programs to get diapers into the hands of parents who need them in light of our country’s current crisis. An article on Fast Company reports that the state of New York has partnered with a major nonprofit to create one of the largest diaper banks this country has ever seen.

“COVID-19 has piled challenge after challenge onto hardworking New York families, including the ability to afford the products they need to care for their children,” says Governor Cuomo.

Baby2Baby, a national nonprofit based out of L.A., has partnered with the state of New York to establish a diaper bank that will get 20 million diapers into New York homes. Dubbed “the New York State Cares + Baby2Baby Diaper Bank,” this initiative, according to Fast Company, “complements the Nourish New York program that the state announced in April 2020. As part of that program, last year the state purchased more than $25 million in food from New York farmers and routed it to food banks.”

Baby2Baby is a well-known nonprofit with a powerhouse board of directors that include celebs like Jessica Alba, Kelly Rowland, and Nicole Richie, so it makes sense for New York, a state with millions of mothers and babies in need, to partner with such a large organization. 20 million diapers is going to go a long way in helping diaper-insecure New York families, and hopefully this secure partnership will continue to supply the diaper bank with whatever it needs in the future as well.

So what can we do? As moms, we know first-hand the importance of having enough diapers for our babies, so if we’re in the position to contribute—even if only a few dollars—how do we do it?

Per their website, “Baby2Baby is now accepting NEW donations of diapers, wipes, formula and hygiene items (e.g. soap, shampoo and toothpaste) from the community to address the most critical needs from families impacted by COVID-19 at our Los Angeles headquarters through contactless dropoff.” Click here for more info on how to help.

Baby2Baby also accepts monetary donations—both one time and recurring. Click here to donate.

The National Diaper Bank Network also accepts monetary donations. Click here to donate.

Also, you can reach out to your local diaper banks to inquire how you can best assist your local community.

Finally, consider the measures your lawmakers have taken to help families in need when you cast your vote. A diaper stipend for parents in their state welfare system could go a long way. And, as MSN bluntly states, “Lawmakers, many of whom claim to care about babies, be pro-life, and are ‘pro-family’ would do well to include diaper assistance as part of their platforms or state laws.” If your lawmakers have not shown evidence of a program to assist diaper-insecure families, you can reach out to them to express how important this is.

Imagine having a baby and going a day without diapers. This is the reality for Americans from coast to coast—a crisis that’s only been exacerbated ten-fold by COVID-19. Programs like Gov. Cuomo’s partnership with Baby2Baby help, but they aren’t enough. Our government needs to do more to help diaper-insecure families, especially because if they’re diaper-insecure, then they are likely also food-insecure.

America is in crisis, and caring for the smallest, most vulnerable among us must be top priority. Helping families get the diapers they need is one way to do just that.

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