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The Diaper Dilemma

Written by: Heather Lowe -

Imagine you're a new mom who just used the last diaper and you don't have enough money in your account to buy more. What would you do?

Even before the pandemic, one in three US families reported that they could not afford diapers. With an average cost of $80 per month per child, this most basic of needs can put a financial strain on families with young children.

Diaper need is a frequently overlooked aspect of poverty and as families begin to rebuild, the need is higher than it's ever been. COVID-19 resulted in a devastating loss of income that has disproportionately affected women and low-wage workers, compounding the problem across the country. Aside from losing income, many families lost access to child care as well. For those that were enrolled in subsidized child care programs, they also lost access to the free diapers that are provided as a benefit. Panic buying early in the pandemic also resulted in supply chain issues that made diapers harder to find, even for those who could afford them. Additionally, for families in low-income neighborhoods without access to transportation, diaper prices may be much higher if they have to be purchased at convenience stores rather than big box retailers.

None of the federal aid programs (including WIC or SNAP) includes diapers as an eligible expense. States have the discretion to allow TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds to pay for diapers, but for every 100 children living in poverty in Tarrant County, only two are served by TANF. In those rare instances when a family actually receives TANF benefits, the average monthly amount for a mother with two children is $295 in funds that are also supposed to pay for things like rent, utilities, and food.

Cloth diapers are sometimes suggested as both an environmentally friendly and more cost-effective alternative, but washing cloth diapers is often prohibited in laundromats or apartment laundry centers. For mothers experiencing any form of homelessness, the issue is even more complicated and difficult to manage. Diaper banks help to fill this gap throughout the country. The National Diaper Bank Network distributed more than 100,000,000 diapers in 2020. However, diaper banks are reliant on corporate donations and volunteers. More sustainable policy-based solutions are needed to keep babies clean, dry and healthy. The End Diaper Need Act (HR 1846) was introduced in the House of Representatives in 2019 by Congresswomen Barbara Lee and Rosa DeLauro, but has not yet made it out of committee discussions.

At CTL, we manage several programs that provide diapers to our youngest participants while they are in our care, including Early Head Start and subsidized child care. We also rely on diaper donations to fill needs as they arise for clients in our Homeless Services and other programs. You can help us meet this need by donating to our Seats and Feets donation drive, which is taking place now. By purchasing something from our online registry, you can help us keep lots of “seats” clean, dry, and healthy.